What Doesn't Kill You
By Cider Sky
A/N: Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me and this story, it means a lot to this sporadically updating, undisciplined writer. Also, writing this again has made me sorely miss the departed: Lori, Dale, T-Dog … others. It's nice to see them again.
A special thank you to all those who took the time to review. I know you don't have to, but I am humbled by your decisions to take the time to do so. And of course, thank you to everyone who favorited, followed and read – it means a lot to me!
Also, a happy birthday to KaliShu!
Carol's tired gaze tracks Herschel's careful movements as he replaces yet another IV bag. It must be the third one, or at least she thinks it is, and judging by Herschel's heavy sigh and slight pause, hands halting over the roller clamp, it's probably the last of his supply.
Carol thinks over a small prayer of thanks for Herschel Greene and his family, for their kindness and their farm.
She had never been one to fuss over what might have been – couldn't afford to, not with a man like Ed – but she doesn't have to make such thing a habit to know what would have happened to Daryl without the intervention of Herschel.
She knew her way around cuts and bruises, sprains and breaks – again, she couldn't afford not to – but this would have been beyond her. It would have been beyond all of them and they would have lost him. Simple as that.
Carol juts her chin up in rebellion over such thoughts and tightens her grasp on Daryl's cold, clammy hand.
The man hasn't regained even a touch of color, his skin still waxen and unhealthy looking. The only exception is a light brushing of red across his cheeks; Carol's seen enough of illness in her day to know its evidence of a building fever.
Herschel notices her concern, the dip in her brow as she briefly places the back of her hand on his forehead.
"We'll keep an eye on the fever, try to keep it down best we can." Herschel gives a small nod at the water basin next to the bed.
It seemed luck was with them in that regard; winter was on it's way and though the days still reached uncomfortably hot temperatures, the nights were finally cool. This made for good, cold well water.
And it would have to do. Herschel had checked – double-checked, even – in vain for medications that might set calm a fever. The once seemingly inexhaustible medical supply had finally come to its end and all that was left were drugs he didn't dare offer a human.
"When he wakes up, see if he can manage this." Herschel presses one half of a white, nondescript pill into Dale's hand. The older man rolls it around in his hand for a moment.
"Is this enough?" Dale knows his medication. He had spent months watching his wife die and had learned far too much about medication and caring for the dying. He knew just by looking that this was a meager amount for a rather serious illness.
"No." Hershel's response is tired and flat, the tone acquiescent to the complete inadequacy of the treatment. "No, it's not. But it's all we have - "
"- and we'll make do." Carol says confidently, because Daryl is strong and Hershel is a blessing and will get them through this. Carol refuses to believe otherwise, even as she chokes against the lump in her throat, because God could not take Sophia and Daryl from her – he couldn't be that cruel, couldn't be that angry with her, couldn't allow Daryl to die like this after a life like his.
A few tears slid down her cheeks and she sniffs, surprised by the sudden wetness. She quickly moves a hand up to wipe away her sudden show of emotion but, upon feeling the light, comforting touch to her shoulder, moves her hand to her mouth, unwilling to whimper or cry out.
She looks up with a short, embarrassed smile – she'd been crying far too much these days – and meets Hershel's gaze.
"That's right. We'll make do." Hershel offers his own small smile and Carol reaches up to clench his hand, giving it a thankful squeeze.
"Call me if you two need anything." Hershel says, exhaustion coloring his voice, and then slips out, closing the door quietly behind him.
Carol takes a breath, holding it in for a moment before releasing it, and regains her composure. She's not the only one trying to stay strong. Across the room Dale is still fussing with the pill in his hand, shaking his head as she'd seem him do when running a thought or two through his already overburdened mind.
After a moment of watching his halfhearted pacing, she decides she's had enough of watching him wear a hole in the floor.
"Could you hand me those cloths?" She rasps, pointing to the dresser and the fresh stack Patricia had put there – Carol doubts the woman would have thought the laundry she'd just unpinned that morning would end up soiled with blood by the day's end.
He gathers them in one arm and grabs the chair next to the dresser, pulling it over to sit next to her. Carol offers a small, automatic smile as she takes them; she doesn't do anything with them, just sits them there in her lap, her hands uselessly smoothing out the creases.
They sit in exhausted silence until Carol takes in a small, stuttering breath, shaking her head as her own thoughts run rampant.
"He wouldn't have told anyone that anything was wrong." Carol muses, staring at the mix of rags and towels in her lap.
The thought of what would have happened to him had she not intervened sends short thrills of fear through her being – he would've died alone, in pain, just like her baby girl.
She says the last part out loud, though she hadn't intended to and she feels Dale's hands brush over hers, ceasing her distracted movements over the cloths/
It feels like a punishment for her own weakness, having been guilty of the same – no matter how many times she had been struck down by Ed's fist, or laid out by illness, she had never asked for help. She had always hidden herself away under weak excuses, doing her best to take care of her daughter while locked away in her home, knowing full well that if Ed so chose, he could kill her.
Seeing similar behavior in someone she cares for tears at her, pulls at every part of her being while simultaneously breeding an anger directed at nothing and no one in particular.
"I can't – I can't lose someone else." She says and there's nothing truer. She feels like she's standing on the edge of something terrible and that whatever has been holding her up – that crumbling foothold of hope – is so severely fractured that plummeting into the abyss below is a near sure thing.
It would take one more thing, just one terrible thing riding on the coattails of her only child's death to send the world beneath her crumbling.
"Did I ever tell you about the first conversation I ever had with Daryl?"
Dale knows he's made the right decision because Carol's gaze drifts up in small surprise, a small quirking smile at the corner of her lips. She shakes her head, no, and he can see her grip tighten over his unresponsive hand.
"It was an admittedly short conversation – we all know he's a man of few words, as colorful as they are –" Carol exhaled in amusement; sure, Daryl certainly had a colorful vocabulary but it was nothing compared to Ed. Daryl had the mouth of a saint compared to that man.
Dale let loose a rare curse in a moment of frustration as he surveyed, in complete desperation, the small storage space located in the back of the RV. It was the last place it could be, though he knew with uncomfortable certainty that the item in question had been dropped in a fit of surprise.
The storage space was woefully empty and he cursed himself for being so careless, so forgetful. One minute his revolver had been in his hand, the next he was pulling Amy up from the concrete and pushing her into the RV.
He'd dropped his gun. His gun for heaven's sakes! Of all things …
He couldn't be completely to blame, however. He had never owned a gun of his own, had never wanted one and he certainly hadn't any sentimental attachment to that hunk of metal – it had slipped from his grasp like water when he'd seen Amy in trouble – so it was of no real surprise that he would forget about it until they called for a halt.
Andrea and Amy had gone off to scavenge with the officer – Shane – and the older, more raucous member of the Dixon brother duo – Merle – while whoever was left took inventory of what was left after that group of Walkers had blown through.
It had been a devastating surprise. They'd lost supplies, food, people …
Dale sighed and slammed the door shut deciding to count the gun as another lost asset and retire outdoors for fresh air.
Fresh wasn't the word for it – it was hot, humid, terrible. His gaze swept over the remaining members – Lori,
"Hey –" Dale didn't immediately turn around as, in his experience, this particular person rarely spoke to anyone but his brother. There was no reason to think he was the one being 'hey'd'.
"Hey, old man, y' deaf or what?" At that Dale hesitantly turned, still unsure and honestly, hoping to avoid becoming involved in Dixon business.
"Daryl –" he started, unsure of how to continue discourse with the usually quiet man, "what can I do for –"
"Y dropped your gun –" Dale was genuinely surprised, brows raising; he was about to respond with a 'thank you' as most people might do in this case, but the younger Dixon had more to say.
"Best keep an eye on it. Got women and children to look after – don't need some bag of bones puttin' 'em danger 'cuz he can't keep hold of himself when the Walkers come –"
Dale stared, stuck between being taken aback by the general rudeness of it all and surprised by the concern coloring the man's voice.
Before he could respond the man turned away, his strides purposeful … for five paces. At that point he turned on his heel – an awkward looking movement for a usually graceful man.
Daryl approached him again and Dale could see his jaw working, as though he were chewing his bottom lip.
" – and learn t' take care of it. Needed oilin'. S' good now."
It took Dale a moment – the moment it took the young man to continue his march away, towards the woods – to realize Daryl had just admitted to oiling his gun for him.
"Thank you, Daryl!" He called out but the man didn't turn around.
"That doesn't sound like a conversation. Sounds like a lecture." Carol smiles at the finish, her eyes a little more clouded than they had been a moment ago.
"No, it doesn't, does it?" Dale huffs in amusement, his hands wringing a small knot. "But the point I wanted to make –
His expression turns a little more sober, a little sadder.
"Daryl is a good man. He just doesn't know it."
Carol nods and hopes Daryl can hear them – hopes he figures out what they have.
He finds her in what had been Carl's sick room and the sight stops him in the doorway.
Lori is hunched over and Rick can tell she's been crying; her eyes are red rimmed and her cheeks are waxy with recently spilled tears. He's hesitant to disturb her and quickly realizes how absurd that is – she's his wife, she would welcome his comfort.
Before his mind can cruelly raise an argument over the fact, undoubtedly armed with evidence from recent history, he softly knocks on the door.
"Hey." Lori looks up at the sound of her husband's voice, startled. He watches in disappointment as she sniffs and smooths her hair, then wipes at her face, clearly trying to hide the fact that she had indeed been crying.
"How're you doin'?" Rick says as he crosses the room, taking a seat in the empty chair next to his wife.
The action of sitting and blissfully not moving for a moment makes him realize how exhausted he is. Lori doesn't stir, doesn't move as he rolls a shoulder and exhales, wincing through the stiffness.
"Just needed a moment." Is all she offers and Rick nods. There was a lot going on, outside of the obvious, and judging by the way Shane had been stomping around moments before, Rick figures something must have happened while he and the others had been tending to Daryl.
"He's with Maggie." She doesn't elaborate, but for now, it's good enough for him.
"Good. That's good." Rick says, his tone relieved but ultimately just made of all things worn-out; it's one less thing to worry about.
"He made it through the procedure, but -" but he doesn't look so good; all we can do is wait.
He doesn't need to continue; they'd just done this with Carl, hardly two weeks ago, and Lori accepts the half answer with a stony nod.
"T-Dog and Glenn are missing."
"Missing?" Rick croaks, tilting his head, hoping for elaboration.
"Been gone an hour, at least."
He knows that a surge of adrenaline should follow, pushing him into action, but it doesn't – he's exhausted and this new development makes him dizzy.
"How long can we do this?" Lori asks after a pause, a pause Rick had been hoping she'd keep. He knows what she is going to say next, what she's going to tell him, all as thought he didn't know it already.
"We can't leave –"
"I know, Lori. I know it." He does. Of course, he does. She stands and his shoulders relax, expecting her touch.
Instead, he listens to her footsteps as she walks out of the room.
The car pulls up, tires digging into the dirt and no sooner than it's come to a halt, Glenn and T-Dog are out and bounding up the farmhouse steps.
"Herschel –" Glenn shouts and is met almost immediately by Maggie and Lori.
"Where were you –"
"We were worried sick –" They start in unison.
Maggie looks less than pleased – actually, both women do, but whatever they are feeling is swept to the side when they see what they've brought back.
"Is that antibiotics? Saline?" Maggie starts, peering into one of the bags hungrily, eyes sweeping over the contents.
"We got what we could – place was cleaned out pretty good." T-Dog starts, following Lori up the stairs as she calls out to Herschel.
"We really should intubate him." Herschel says after a full minute of watching the ill man breathe, of lightly resting an open hand on his chest.
On some breaths his chest shudders, each feeling like some small rebellion of the man's lungs. When his breath isn't hitching, catching in his throat, it's so shallow it is nigh unobservable.
A passerby would think him dead.
"But we can't." Carol says and the way she says it suggests she's annoyed that Herschel had even seen reason to say it when there was nothing to be done for it.
Herschel doesn't respond and moves a hand to Daryl's forehead. The older man has learned his lesson and says nothing as a small frown tugs at his features.
"You are taking good care of him. His fever hasn't gotten any worse, as I feared it might." He doesn't say anything about it getting better but it's something.
"Have you been able to get any fluids into him?" Herschel asks, his eyes tracing a worried line towards the now empty IV bag – its sides are pinched closed, completely drained.
"We haven't tried –" Dale admits from the left side of the bed.
"That's probably for the best, right now. Wouldn't want him to aspirate it."
"How are we going to – " Carol starts as she wets another rag, set on keeping that fever down; they can at least do that for the poor man.
"When he wakes," Herschel says it confidently as though it's an absolute certainty, "we'll see what he can manage. That shouldn't be long now."
He doesn't mention that it shouldn't be long because of the soon to be unbearable pain levels. Judging by the silence that follows he doesn't need to.
"Dad –" All three of the room's conscious occupants whip their heads towards the door as it opens, revealing Maggie; by the sound of it – hushed whispers and unseen rifling – others await behind her.
"Glenn and T-Dog went on a run –" the words arouse a collection of surprised gasps and 'what? when's. They go ignored as Maggie ushers Glenn and T-Dog in, pulling them towards the table with what was left of their meager supply.
"How is – no, that won't work – how is he?" Maggie asks, tossing the words over her shoulders as she digs through the packs, pulling the medication that would best serve Daryl's predicament.
"You boys are a God-send. This couldn't have come at a better time." He answers, joining them with two quick strides, plucking an IV bag from one of the packs, and returning to the bedside; he replaces it quickly, his deft hands making short work.
He catches Carol's gaze and sees relief, her hand clasped over her chest as though soothing a physical pain.
The situation had been dire. Now, they can confront that monster and it is clear to the physician that that is exactly what Carol is doing.
Once the drugs are catalogued, the bags unpacked, the contents strewn about the room, everyone seems to let out a collective, weary sigh.
"That's enough excitement for today, I think." Lori says from the door; it's the most polite version of 'clear the room' she can muster.
Just before T-Dog and Glenn make it to the door, Carol reaches out, grabbing Glenn's wrist.
"Thank you. Both of you." The words lift some weight from her and for the first time since that morning, she feels optimistic.
Lori sits with her in the earliest hours of the day, hours before dawn. The entire house is silent; the only sound is that of the end of summer cicadas.
Carol appreciates her presence and intentions, of course, but the air buzzes with words begging to be said. Truth be told, it is not something she needs right now.
"You should rest. I can take over for a few hours." Lori says, looking at her from across the room.
Carol tries to imagine how Daryl would react should he wake up to Lori and only Lori. Their relationship was … tenuous, at best. She'd heard them say some terrible things to and about each other.
"I'm fine. Thank you."
"Daryl's lucky to have you. If it weren't for you … well we know he's stubborn as a mule." Lori doesn't say it with any particular affection but its not loaded with her usual disdain for the man.
"I hope he knows how lucky he is."
"I think it can go both ways." Lori doesn't know her well enough to hear the edge in her voice. Carol knows Lori doesn't mean anything by it, that her remark was careless, but the words feel off, irritate her. "I don't think I can ever thank him enough for what he's done for Sophia."
She can see Lori's weight shift. Carol could be careless with her words, too.
"Carol, about Sophia, I'm so –"
"I know. I don't want to talk about that now. Not now." She says, the edge back and perhaps a little more obvious.
"Okay." Lori says. They sit in silence until Lori stands and offers to get them tea.
It's nearly dawn and Carol sighs a breath of relief.
Hershcel had been optimistic about Daryl's recovery should he make it through the night she feels the hand under hers twitch. The fatigue that had been pulling her under moments ago vanishes instantly.
"Daryl –" She half-whispers as she watches him come to life, slowly, painfully. His brow furrows and his eyelids flutter and after a long stretch, manages to open his eyes.
Carol can feel a whimper catch in her throat at the sight of the fever glazed, blur orbs. She reaches for the bowl of water – it's luke warm, now – and nearly knocks it over in her haste.
"Here –" she says as she squeezes the rag and lightly dabs at his forehead. Or at least it is was she intended to do – as her cloth descends he flinches back, his gaze distrusting.
"Don't –" Daryl mutters, his voice gritty and worn, the word sounding more like a noise than something coherent and meaningful.
"Shh, don't fuss, you –" She tries softly but is rewarded with another sharp jerk.
Carol recoils her hand; she's not completely shocked – he's injured, hurting, vulnerable and he's, well, he's Daryl but the hostility, the anger in his gaze seems …
"Daryl, it's me. I'm try –" His breathing becomes more strained and she feels some small panic well in her gut – he was going to hurt himself …
"Don' touch me –" Carol sits back; the worst thing she can do is crowd him, make him feel more trapped than he already is -
" – Merle."
Carol feels her hands tighten around the cloth, her heartache bleeding into the fabric.
I've decided to add, with more frequency, smaller chapters rather than long ones. It will take me too long to update the other way – sorry for such a short one.
Thank you, again, for reading. You all are amazing.