Author's Notes: Thanks for the love on Ghost, you guise!
Her skin was ice cold, despite the summer heat. He had touched a hand to her jaw and her eyes fluttered at the contact. She was alive. But barely. Weak. Dehydrated. It didn't take a diagnosis from Hershel to figure that one out.
She sighed at the contact, once the realisation that the person in front of her was alive. Was safe. He had no words for her. The relief that washed over him was all consuming and it took him a few seconds to get himself together and plan his next move.
He figured he should probably say something to her, but he didn't trust his mouth to not betray him, to pour out words that he would normally keep locked firmly in his head. So instead, he scooped her up easily and she managed to find the strength to wrap an arm around his neck. Her head slumped against his shoulder and her body slackened as soon as he stood upright.
He wasn't sure she hadn't been bit, but there was no fever. No obvious bite marks. She knew the rules, he trusted her to have told him if she had been.
He kept his footsteps as light as he could under her weight. Tried to listen out for any unwelcome visitors. He hoped there wouldn't be. With both arms otherwise occupied and both his and her knife tucked into his belt, they'd be pretty fucking screwed if a bunch of Walkers crossed their path unexpectedly.
They'd gotten over half way to their cell block when he heard the familar moaning and shuffling. It was low and alone, so he thought.
He dropped Carol's feet to the floor, tried to steady her, but she was like newborn calf, knees knocking as she tried to stand upright unaided.
He guided her to lean against the wall and she took hold of the railing gratefully just as the Walker rounded the corner and spotted them.
Daryl waited for it to come to him, tripping over itself to feed on him and he wasted no time or energy on the thing, throwing his knife into it's eyeball and pulling the blade free before it had even stopped moving.
Carol collapsed onto him as he turned back to her and he pushed on, eager to get her under Hershel's care.
All he can hear as they finally make their way to the cell block is her ragged breathing and the blood pounding in his ears.
"Carl!" She jumped a little as he shouted out for the boy. They were just a few strides away from the entrance to their cell block and Daryl could hear the keys jangling nosily as Carl hurried to open the door.
The boy gasped when he saw his precious cargo and didn't hesitate for a second to race to find the old man, yelling out for Beth to help him as he did. The baby kicked up a storm at the sudden racket and he felt Carol tense in his arms.
His cell was nearest. He didn't sleep in it, but he used it to stack his gear in and he threw aside his poncho and shirts to make room for her on the thin mattress.
Carol whimpered slightly as he slid his hands out from underneath her. "Sssh. You're alright." It was his first words to her since he found her and they weren't particularly inspiring, but they seemed to comfort her all the same.
She tried to shape her lips to speak, head lifting up to look down at him. He frantically hunted out the half-full bottle of water he knew to be in his things.
"The ba-" The words were hoarse and he cut her off by pressing the bottle rim against her lips.
"Ssh. Drink." He cupped her chin and tipped the liquid into her mouth and she swallowed it greedily. Truth was, he didn't want to answer questions about the baby. Or answer questions about Lori that would inevitably follow. He wanted to get her stronger again, strong enough to take the answers.
Her hands were bloody. Her knuckles had been scraped up something awful and he took her nearest hand in his, turning it over to assess the damage.
Her fingers twitched in his and she pulled them out to reach for the bottle of water cradled in his other hand.
"Slow down, slugger." Daryl murmured, but he brushed her hand aside to bring the bottle to her mouth once more.
The baby's cries grew closer and as Hershel came limping through the cell door, they stopped abruptly, Beth cradling the little one and pushing a bottle into her mouth. They both looked frightened and angry and Daryl wrinkled his brow in confusion. Surely they should be happy that one member of their group had returned to them, alive?
The old man was visibly taken aback by the sight before him but righted himself quickly.
"How much water has she had?" He asked Daryl and Daryl shrugged.
"She ain't drunk for days."
God, he felt like an even bigger fucking failure. Why the hell had he given up? Just assumed she was a lost cause? He'd even walked by her when he'd gone clearing out the block originally. Skipping out on checking behind every door. It could've gotten him killed. It had almost gotten her killed.
He'd only gone in there because he wanted something moving to unleash his frustrations at. He could have very well walked passed her altogether. He looked down at her prone form and swallowed the bile that rose in his throat.
"Too much, too fast will make her sick." Hershel warned him and he gestured for Daryl to get out of the way. "You need to get to Rick. We have a guest. Maggie and Glenn..." Hershel swallowed thickly. "...They've been taken."
Daryl snapped his eyes up to the older man. "What?" He asked sharply.
Hershel sighed and shook his head and Daryl didn't miss the shining in his eyes and the choking in his words. "Just go and help."
He took a look down at Carol, who was struggling to keep alert, but she tried anyway, her big blue eyes flickering between him and Hershel.
"I'll be back in a bit." He told her quietly before darting past Beth from the cell.
Merle was alive. Merle was in Woodbury. Merle had taken Glenn and Maggie. He hadn't imagined a reunion with his big brother for a long time, but whatever he imagined, it wasn't this.
This Michonne woman spoke of Merle venomously. Like she wanted to kill him. She spoke of disgusting acts of brutality. Lows that this group, his group, had never stooped too. He didn't know this woman, had never seen her before in his life, but he knew that every word she spoke, everything she said about Merle, it was true.
He didn't think he could feel this sick in one day, but he did. He had been so desperate to find Merle before in the beginning but now...well, days went by before he even thought of his big brother. This was his family now. Every last one of this group.
He had to go get Glenn and Maggie. That was for certain, they would never leave them behind. But he knew, just knew, that it wasn't going to go over well. In fact, coupled with the fact that Andrea was there too and apparently unwilling to leave, it was just going to be one giant clusterfuck.
He'd just gotten Carol back. He had grieved, gotten hopeful, then grieved again before she finally appeared before him. But she was weakened, in need of protection. He didn't want to leave her. Not just because she needed protection though. Well not just because of that. He had missed her. Didn't realise how much until she was gone.
They had all left a hole in his heart. Even Lori. Every one that had gone had hurt him. But she was always there. Always in his thoughts. Did so much with her in mind. Taught her how to use a knife. How to skin the game he caught. How to tread carefully and quietly. Laughed with her. Argued with her.
It was selfish and he'd rather stab his eyes out than admit it, but he didn't want to leave her. Ever. He especially didn't want to leave her to go fix Merle's fuck ups. Spent his whole life fixing up Merle's mistakes and having to sacrifice his own life for it. Now he might have to do it literally, if what Michonne said about this Governor was to be believed.
Hershel was just coming out of the cell when Daryl walked towards it to get his gear.
"She'll be fine." He told him without him having to ask. "Severely dehydrated, more than anything. Exhausted. She's twisted her ankle, but it's mostly cuts and bruises. Couple of days rest and she'll be alright."
Daryl nodded and couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief. "Ya gonna have to get her on 'er feet as soon as possible. We're goin' to Woodbury, gettin' Glenn and Maggie back."
Hershel gave him a grateful nod and Daryl averted his eyes.
"Gotta lock this place down whilst we're gone." He gave Hershel a pat on the shoulder before slipping into the cell.
Beth sat on the edge of the bed and the baby was nestled in the crook of Carol's arm, gurgling quietly. They both looked up at his arrival.
He jerked his head at Beth and to her credit, she got the hint, skirting round him shyly to give him the privacy he wanted.
Daryl cleared his throat and crouched down beside the bed, grabbing his crossbow and quiver. "Gotta go for a bit." He told her in a murmur.
Carol cleared her throat. "Thank you." Her words were barely audible and they were hoarse. She didn't sound like her at all. Her fingers closed around the baby's chubby leg as she spoke, but she didn't break his gaze.
He shrugged. "Ain't nothin' to thank me for." He reached out and picked up the pacifier from the mattress, pushed it into the eager baby's mouth. "Maggie and Glenn, they've been taken. By the livin'. My brother."
Carol didn't seem shocked. She nodded at him slowly. God, she was so easy. She made everything so easy for him. Didn't ask for him to explain, the last thing he wanted to do. Being around her was so fucking natural it was scary. They fitted together like a two piece jigsaw.
"Gotta go get them back. Rest up, alright? Stay safe."
Carol nodded again. He sensed she wanted to say something, but she held back. Maybe she wasn't strong enough to talk, but he guessed it was more to do with not saying something that would make him change his mind about going.
"Want me to give the baby to Beth?" He asked as he tugged his things over his shoulder.
She shook her head quickly. "S'fine." She slurred out.
"Alright, then." Daryl pulled up out of his crouch with a sigh. Didn't really know how he was supposed to walk out on her. Didn't want to make it a goodbye.
Her hand shot forward like a snake, fingers gripping his wrist pretty tight for someone so weak. Her eyes got wet, glistening like diamonds.
"'S family loves you too, 'member that." She managed to choke out, coughing wheezily as she did.
Fuck. He could feel his heart fluttering. A solid lump in his throat. He was not fucking crying. He choked it back down and distracted himself by sliding his wrist out of her grip and lacing his fingers in hers.
"Ain't goin' nowhere." He told her solidly, giving her hand a squeeze. "Rest." His last words to her were an order and she nodded and he turned away and left the cell without looking back.
Didn't need a final look at her to memorise her features. Wouldn't entertain the idea.
He'd be seeing her again very soon. He was coming home.