Summary – Starts during 'Hounded', after Daryl finds something of Carol's embedded in a walker's neck. This is my take on what should happen afterwards. Rated T for language.
After watching the Daryl and Carol scene (about fifty times), my muse ran amuck and here is what happened as a result.
*WARNING* - CONTAINS SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR SEASON 3!
"That's Carol's knife."
It was as if all the air had left his lungs and those were going to be his last words before he suffocated. The past few days he'd been holding in so much. He had held in the pain of assuming she was dead. He hadn't let anyone see the overwhelming feelings of loss and hatred towards himself for not protecting her. In that second after pulling the knife from the walker, he suddenly hated himself even more for not trying harder to find her. Sure, he'd gone through the prison once or twice while everyone was asleep, but he obviously hadn't searched enough.
Daryl clenched his jaw and slowly cleaned the knife off on the walker's shirt. He stayed kneeling only long enough to catch his breath. He heard someone say something to him, but he was already halfway down the corridor. He needed space. He needed time to think. He knew that if anyone tried to bother him, he just might snap, and they didn't need another non-walker casualty. The rage he felt kept the tears from falling down his face, but his eyes still stung and his nose started to run. He walked another few yards before falling to the ground, the weight of it all finally coming down on him.
He paid no attention to the dead walker that was only a foot from him, just folded his legs and propped himself against a wall. Daryl clutched Carol's knife, his knuckles going white. He covered his face with his hand, a thousand thoughts racing through his mind. Carol might have not been dead, had he just looked for her a little longer. He brought the knife down onto the concrete floor in anger. The horrendous pain of knowing she probably died scared and alone made him nearly gasp. He stabbed the knife into the ground again. The sound of the door across the hall moving didn't even break his thoughts.
He remembered her laugh, her smile. Another stab to the ground. All of her stupid innuendoes. He leaned back against the wall and sighed. With his hand no longer on his face, he looked around but he didn't really pay attention. The door made a loud sound and he assumed there might be a walker behind it, but it was being blocked by a dead one. He thought of her gentle touches. Stab. Her ability to make him feel like he belonged. Another stab. The door moved. Her silliness even in the worst of times. Another stab, followed by the door.
He sighed in irritation at the door, which had been knocking against the walker after every strike to the ground. But again, he paid it no mind when her bright eyes swam in front of his face. He adjusted his grip on the knife and stabbed the floor. He bowed his head, regret at not telling her how special she truly was filling him to the brink. His anger bubbled over and he swung his arm backwards, the knife violently connecting with the wall. The door made another sound and he made a last stab at the wall before hauling himself to his feet.
Daryl clenched the knife in his hand and kicked the door as hard as he could, pain radiating up his leg, but he didn't give a damn. He went to walk away, too angry to care about killing whatever was behind the door. He suddenly turned back, and paced for a moment, trying to collect himself. Rage still sweeping through his veins, he put the knife between his teeth and bent down to grab the dead walker. He all but threw the body out of the way. He swung the door open with force, giving him barely enough time to put the knife in his hand and swing his arm back as if to attack. Nothing was there.
He looked down and his heart stopped. There was Carol, sitting on the floor, covered in blood. His mind raced and he stood looking at her for a moment, so terrified that she might have been turned into a walker. His heart began beating again at a heavy pace as she turned her face towards him, looking utterly exhausted but otherwise still herself. Her electric blue eyes were drooping when they met his and he leaned down, unsure what to do next. He knew he'd need to carry her, but he was so damn stunned that he needed to know if this was really happening or not. He reached out and touched her, his fingers gently stroking below her chin and jaw.
Within the length of a breath, he went to one knee and gingerly moved her away from the wall. She slouched against him and he slid one arm beneath her knees, the other going behind her shoulders. He took a deep breath and stood, waiting for her to nod slightly and slink her arm around his neck before he started to walk back towards their cell block. He couldn't stop looking at her face, though. He couldn't bring himself to fully accept the fact that she was still alive after all the emotions he'd gone through while thinking she was dead.
As always, Carol was the first to break the silence. "My hero," she whispered, her voice raspy.
Daryl shook his head. "I'm the reason that you are the way you are right now."
She couldn't find the energy to lift her head from his shoulder to look him in the eyes. "How do you figure? I was the one who hid in that closet."
"I shoulda looked for you harder," he explained with a heavy regret lacing his tone.
"Oh, Daryl," she sighed. "Don't be stupid."
Daryl instantly stopped walking. "I ain't stupid," he said. "I just didn't do a good enough job tryin' to find you. I seem to be real shitty at findin' people."
"Don't make this about Sophia," she snapped, suddenly feeling much less groggy.
"Sorry," he muttered before beginning to walk again.
The tension slowly became too much for Carol to handle. "No, I'm sorry," she said after a few minutes. "I didn't mean to yell at you."
He grunted but didn't say anything. Carol chose to keep her mouth shut, the look on Daryl's face telling her that he didn't want to talk. Her eyes started getting heavier and heavier until she finally couldn't keep them open any longer. She nuzzled her cheek against Daryl's shoulder, barely registering the slight flinch from him before she slipped into complete darkness. She woke up sometime later, Daryl's voice rousing her.
"Carol! Dammit, woman! Open your eyes!"
Carol tried to open her eyes, but they felt glued shut. She assumed they were still walking because Daryl had her pulled tight against his chest. But then something felt off. She finally forced her eyes to open and she realized she was in one of the jail cells. Daryl was sitting on the bed with his back against the wall, one arm still firmly behind her shoulders in order to keep her upright and against his chest. The other arm was draped across her legs, a water bottle dangling from his fingers.
"There ya go," he said with relief. "I was startin' to worry."
"You?" she laughed. "Worried?"
"Hey," he chided, "don't be rude. I'm allowed to care, ain't I?"
Carol took a deep breath but then coughed, her throat feeling drier than she could ever remember it being. Daryl instantly brought the bottle of water to her chapped lips.
"Drink," he demanded.
Had she not been so thirsty, she probably would have rolled her eyes. She didn't have the energy to lift her arm to grab the bottle herself, so she just opened her mouth and allowed Daryl to pour in some water. They sat in silence as he slowly assisted her in emptying the entire thing. She closed her eyes for another few seconds when she was finished, exhaustion washing over again.
"Are ya hurt?" he asked, trying to keep her awake.
She mustered enough energy to shake her head. "Nope. I'm really tired, though."
He thought about this for a minute. "Nowhere on you hurts?" he asked again, wanting to be completely sure.
"My stomach," she admitted. "I'm probably just hungry, that's all."
"Let me get you some food," he said, not waiting for her to reply before he started to move off the bed. Without letting her go, he reached down and grabbed a granola bar, unwrapped the package, and broke off a piece before putting it to her lips. "Eat."
Carol ate two granola bars before refusing to let him find her something else. "Daryl, please, just let me sleep for a little while."
Daryl didn't say anything, just looked away from her. A light bulb went off in her head.
"Are you afraid that if I go to sleep, I won't wake up?" she asked quietly.
Daryl finally nodded his head, feeling a bit childish.
Carol sighed and gently smoothed down the back of his hair. "Thank you for caring. But I promise I will wake up. And not as one of them."
Daryl nodded again but didn't look convinced, just slightly uncomfortable at her touching the back of his head. As her eyes were about to close again, she noticed that she was only in her tank top and pants. Her shoes had been removed, as well as her over-shirt. Her skin was free and clear of any blood. He seemed to notice her look of surprise.
"I didn't think you'd want to stay like that," he muttered. "Cleaned off what I could, but didn't want to move ya around too much."
"Thank you," she whispered. "For everything."
"Ain't nothin' no one else wouldn't of done," he replied.
"They would have let me go by now, Daryl," she insisted. "Not that I'm complaining."
Daryl shrugged. "Just happy you're alive. That's all."
Carol smiled but then winced as she tried to adjust her shoulders to a more comfortable position. Daryl noticed instantly.
"Ya all right?" he asked.
"Fine. Just a little sore," she assured him.
He sighed as if her being in pain was an inconvenience, causing her to smile. Her drooping eyes shot back open when he slowly scooted her off his lap. She was going to protest when he got off the bed but he shushed her and fluffed up the dirty-looking pillow. He guided her to lie fully across the bed before putting a few tattered blankets on her.
"Daryl, wait!" she said when he stepped back from the bed. "Please don't leave."
He gave her a questioning look. "You need sleep," he reminded her.
"And I want you to stay. Please." She knew begging wasn't very becoming, but she didn't want Daryl to leave her again. "I need you."
Daryl chewed on the inside of his bottom lip before sighing in defeat. He kicked off his shoes and raked his hands into his hair, unsure how to proceed. Carol pulled back the covers and moved over, clearly showing him that she wanted him to lie down next to her. He gave her a worried look, but her slight smile wiped away the concerns he had. He laid down on the bed, making sure to stay as close to the edge as possible. He tensed when Carol pulled the blanket up and around him, her hand staying against his chest.
Carol realized she was pushing it, but she didn't really care at that point. Feeling even braver in her exhausted state, she reached across Daryl, grasped his arm that was furthest from her, and pulled on it until he turned to face her. He gave her an irritated look, but she ignored it. His eyebrows furrowed when she turned away from him, but shock replaced his confusion when she guided his arm to go around her middle. His entire body went rigid when she scooted until her entire back was against his entire front.
Those two words broke down every wall Daryl had left up. He snapped, finally allowing the reality of her being alive to wash over him. Without second-guessing himself, he slid one arm beneath the pillow and pulled her tighter against him. His knees bent slightly so he could form his legs against hers. His arm that she had a hold of went completely across her stomach and his hand went between her side and the cot, effectively pinning her against him. His nose brushed against the back of her neck as he tried to finish getting comfortable, causing a slightly shiver to race down her spine.
"Okay?" he asked timidly.
"Perfect," she breathed out. "Thank you."
"Don't… Just don't ever leave my sight again."
The emotion behind his voice kept Carol from saying anything playful in return. Instead, she nodded her head and patted his arms as if agree to what he had just said. The feel of room suddenly changed. She had no idea what was going on between them or how it was all going to play out, but when Daryl hesitantly kissed her shoulder, she knew exactly what she wanted to happen eventually. If she was honest with herself, it had been like that for a few months, but never had she really had time to think on it.
"I can't lose you again," he said in a barely audible whisper, as if he hadn't actually meant to say it aloud.
"You won't," she assured him. Her hand tightened on his arm when she felt moisture roll down her neck. "Oh, Daryl… Don't cry."
"I ain't cryin'," he muttered. His sniffling gave him away, though. "I just care a lot about ya, that's all. I'm happy you're alive."
"Me too," she said with a yawn.
"Sleep," he commanded. "We can talk more later if you wanna."
And Carol did want to talk. She wanted to get deeper inside this man's head, but she'd settle for cuddling and some much needed rest. The last thing she felt before falling asleep was Daryl's lips resting against the back of her neck and his arm tightening around her stomach. She knew that no matter what happened in the future, Daryl wasn't going to let her go back on her unspoken agreement to never be out of his sight again. She was okay with that, though.
A/N – Please take just a moment out to review! I'd really love to hear your thoughts! Thank you so much for reading!