She held another woman's clothing in her hands having just removed them from the back of an abandoned car but Carol had long since passed feeling uncomfortable rifling through strangers belongings. Winter had set in and the dead had no need of possessions left behind. The living did.
"Anything?" Lori asked coming to lean against the car beside her and running a hand wearily through her dark hair. Carol's eyes flitted to Lori's baby bump and away. The pregnant woman did not have the pregnancy 'glow', their constant moving, stress and hunger, mostly the hunger, sapping her of any vitality.
"Some," Carol replied tucking the clothes into a bag. "Beggars can't be choosers," she joked but her words fell on deaf ears as Lori stared off into the distance, seeming not be listening. Carol glanced over her shoulder to see Rick picking his way through a cluster of vehicles further down the road, Carl striding proudly at his side, gun in hand. He'd grown up fast that boy, she mused as she watched him. He'd had to. But there was still something awfully childlike at his evident pride at how his father treated him as a man of the group.
"Why don't you just talk to him Lori?" Carol sighed turning back to her friend. The icy friction between their leader and his lady had festered to the point where they all felt it and it was beginning to weigh on all of them. No wonder Daryl took off for the woods whenever he could. As though her thoughts had summoned him Daryl appeared out of the tree line traipsing towards them in his long, easy stride. His face was expressionless, his cross bow hanging at his side and something furry dangling from his belt. It was only small, perhaps enough for a few mouthfuls each, but it was better than nothing. Not for the first time, and she was sure it wouldn't be for the last, Carol found herself thanking God or whoever or whatever might be listening that Daryl had decided to stay with them. Rick may be the one keeping them all going but it was Daryl who was keeping them alive. As though sensing her attention Daryl raised his head, his eyes locking on hers. Too slow to look away Carol flushed slightly at being caught staring and lifted the corner of her mouth in a small smile of welcome. He briefly nodded back before his eyes slid away. Carol turned back to Lori guiltily when she realised her friend had been speaking.
"-always but he won't even hear me," Lori fumed and Carol didn't have to guess what she'd missed of the rant, it had been the same things for weeks.
"So make him," Carol replied gently, as she always did.
"I'll try," Lori sighed, as she always did. They both knew she wouldn't. Carol picked up her bag and moved onto the next car. Rifling through the contents she opened a black bag and stared in surprise. She reached in and pulled out a handful of notes, the bag was stuffed full with them, there had to have been hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash crammed into the bag. A smile on her face Carol zipped up the bag and slung it over her shoulder.
She returned to where they had made camp, dumping her spoils on the ground. She put her hands on her hips, stretching out her back her eyes falling on Daryl and Rick who were closest and in the middle of a discussion. Daryl saw her looking toward them and angled his body more toward her as though including her into the huddle.
"Just tellin Rick I found a place not far from here. Looked aroun' pretty good, might be able ta hold up there a while," Daryl told her.
She liked it, the way he included her in conversations, as though her opinion was warranted or even mattered. She'd go along with them, she always did, but it was nice to have it feel like she'd been consulted too.
"Great," she replied with feeling. "It'll be good to have a break from sleeping in the cars for a bit."
"Alright," Rick nodded. "When Glenn and Maggie get back we'll head over and check it out." He walked away and Carol turned back to the bags she'd lugged over from the cars. Despite the dwindling food she was stronger than she'd ever been, thanks in no small part to Daryl.
Several days had passed since the hurried evacuation of the Greene farm and Carol sat, dirty and exhausted, in front of the small fire. The flames had no power to drive the chill from her limbs and so she sat and shivered. She payed no attention to the group around her as she stared into the mesmerising flames. It had only occurred to her that morning – once the threat of imminent death had finally subsided – that Sophia's doll had been left behind on the farm. The doll Daryl had found when he'd tried so hard to bring her home safe. The doll that was the only thing left she had of her daughter. She knew she shouldn't care, that so many other things more imperative for their survival had been abandoned in the rush, but for her it was important. For her it was a reminder of the thing she had loved most in this world. She didn't know what she was anymore. For too long she had just been Ed's wife and for as long as had mattered she had been Sophia's mother. Now she had nothing. Now she was nothing. She didn't regret her words to Daryl the night they left the farm, they'd come out wrong but the essence was there. She was a burden.
"Get up," a voice growled and suddenly a hand was closing its vice like grip around her upper arm. Too surprised to protest she was dragged to her feet.
"Daryl…what?" she gasped as she pushed her towards the trees.
"Come on," he spat pushing her forward again and she had no choice but to get her feet moving and walk... or fall. Once inside the tree line he stopped pushing her and she spun around to face him. Her angry words died on her lips when she saw he was holding up a knife, dangling from a black belt.
"What is that?"
"Funny, I thought even you might be able ta recognise a knife."
"I meant," Carol said through gritted teeth, "What is that for? Why are you giving it to me?"
"Don't ya wanna know how ta use it?"
The simple way he delivered the offer caught her off guard. Daryl Dixon wanted to teach her how to fight?
"Why?" she asked quietly.
"Cause ya gotta decide," Daryl told her, his eyes boring into hers. "Look, live or die its up to you but ya gotta make a choice. Ya don't wanna be burden? Then don't be. But I aint gonna waist my time keeping yer ass alive if ya don't wanna, alright?"
Carol stared at him silently for a moment before reaching out and, with a steady hand, taking the knife from him.
"Alright then," he nodded and turned back the way they had come.
"What have ya got there?" Daryl asked moving closer to her as she knelt by the bags she had collected.
"Bits and pieces," she replied with a shrug, sorting the bags into piles for storage in the limited car space.
"Bits and pieces," Daryl repeated with a smirk opening the black bag. "What, ya rob a bank while I was gone?"
Carol laughed, "Seems some people hang onto the stuff that'll be most important when the world is ending. I thought it might be good for lighting fires."
Daryl watched as she mentally calculated the car space and sorted out what could fit and what needed to be reorganised. She was lighter these days he'd noticed, despite how dark their world was getting. He'd worried in the beginning that he was pushing the frail woman too far. Further than her body or mind could handle. He'd forced her to walk further, train longer and carry heavier things building up her strength, stamina and speed. She'd never complained, not once. Not when the soft skin on her hands and feet blistered before hardening, not when her muscles were so sore she struggled to get up in the morning. Everyday he waited for her to give up or explode at him for his harsh attitude. He thought he'd had her pegged but he'd quickly realised he couldn't have had her more wrong. There was nothing frail about this woman. She had her own strengths and he soon came to realise she was stronger than he could have believed. If any of them had reason to 'opt out' he thought it would have been her. She'd lost everything that meant anything to her and yet she worked harder than any of them. Cooking, cleaning, mending, listening, training from sun up to sun down she was making herself busy, whether to try and forget or to try and lose the 'burden' label she had given herself he wasn't sure. If truth be told, she kind of impressed him. Not that he'd ever admit that. He enjoyed spending time with her…not that he'd ever admit that either. But she just wasn't like the others. She didn't speak just to hear the sound of her own voice and so when she did speak, her words had weight. She was mother, sister, and friend to them all. She'd listen to every whinge, every complaint and offer sympathy or encouragement as desired in return. She'd turn inedible food into a meal. Clean and repair everyone's clothing. But she was more than that; she saw them, really saw them, for who they were. Somehow she knew what someone needed or needed to hear in any given moment in a way he never could understand. She saw him too. He tried to draw away from her, put up his walls against her to drive her away but it hadn't worked because somewhere along the way she had gotten under his skin. She didn't know about his life before all this and he didn't know about hers, they never spoke about it, they didn't need to. They didn't need to know to understand. He didn't have a word for what Carol was to him, he didn't really think about it. She was just important. Her life and her safety had become a priority…he wasn't sure what to make of that.
He helped her load the bags in the cars and once Glenn and Maggie had returned Rick called the group together. He explained what Daryl had found and that they were going to whole up at the house for a few days to recuperate before continuing on. Expressions brightened at the thought of a roof over their heads and space to stretch out to sleep and they moved about in a frenzy to prepare to move out.
Carol did a quick last scan of the area to make sure nothing was being overlooked before heading over to where Daryl sat astride his motorbike waiting for her. Since the farm she had traveled on his bike behind him. She wasn't usually one to outstay a welcome but she'd be damned if she was going to squish into one of the cars when he was willing to take her. Still, every time they'd move on she'd wonder if this morning might be the one he'd just take off but so far he'd always looked around expectantly and she'd immediately clamber on, fighting to keep the small smile from her face.
She wrapped an arm loosely around his waist, leaning against his back as he led the small convoy to just the next in a long line of shelters.
"I want to clear the radius before we move into the house," Rick said scanning keen eyes over the area. "Glenn with me, Daryl you take Carol. Glenn, Maggie, Carl you spread out and keep watch."
Carol blinked in surprise, lifting her head to glance at Rick when she heard her name. A bubble of some long forgotten emotion was building in her chest. Had her skills really improved to the point Rick was sending her out? She'd be with Daryl and so probably as safe as she could possibly be… but still! As she hopped quickly off the bike she realised what that emotion was, pride.
"What's up?" Daryl asked her quietly as they headed into the trees that lined the yards perimeter. Carol just shook her head and quickly reassembled her expression into something more suitable for a scouting mission.
They were just turning back toward the others after finding nothing when Daryl froze, his crossbow rising and Carol froze with him. She knew better than to ask out loud what he'd noticed and so watched him carefully, gauging his expression and the stiffness of his body as to whether they were dealing with a walker or a potential meal for dinner. His eyes narrowed and Carol's breath quickened. Definitely a walker. She quickly followed his line of sight and heard it a second later, a shuffling that was picking up pace. Her blade was already ready in her hand though she had no memory of drawing it. The walker appeared through the foliage, arms up as it saw them and came stumbling toward them. Its head snapped back as Daryl's arrow entered its forehead, dropping it instantly. Daryl moved forward warily to retrieve the arrow but before he could was forced to lunge ahead, knife ready, to stab a second walker that had appeared behind the first. He moved to face the third, ripping his knife free when Carol spotted another coming up slightly from the left. She didn't hesitate but moved to intercept. It moaned when it saw her, gnashing its teeth as it came on. She snapped out her foot as Daryl had taught her catching the walker's knee cap. It staggered and fell and she leapt forward before it could rise driving her dagger through its eye and into its brain. She pulled her knife free and drove it home again just for good measure. Sure it was dead (again) she stood up and scanned the area ahead of her quickly. Seeing nothing moving she turned to look for Daryl. He had his crossbow in front of him, swiftly pulling back to string to load another arrow. His last kill had torn his dagger from his hand and now a walker was approaching his unprotected back.
"Daryl!" Carol cried a warning. Her hand rose without her telling it to and raising the knife she threw it with all her strength thinking of nothing but perhaps distracting the walker enough to give Daryl the couple of seconds he needed.
Crossbow loaded Daryl spun to unload the arrow into the walker's brain but he never fired it. Surprised he stared as the walker crumpled to the ground, Carol's dagger imbedded firmly in its head. The clearing once again descended into silence as they both looked at the walker. Carol wasn't sure who was more surprised, her or Daryl.
Daryl glanced around at her, cocking an eyebrow. "You've been lettin me teach ya how to fight all this time n ya never mentioned ya could do that?"
"I can't do that," Carol protested. "It was a fluke."
"Ya didn't mean to do that? Ya didn want that ta happen?"
"I might have wanted it to happen, doesn't mean I thought it would. It was a lucky shot; I would have been happy with just distracting it."
Daryl stepped forward and pulled her knife free of the walker's skull. "Do it again," he commanded handing her the knife and pointing at a nearby tree. "Hit the trunk."
Carol sighed, "I can't."
Daryl folded his arms and waited and Carol sighed again, turning to face the tree. She lifted her arm and threw the knife forward. She had the strength but the dagger clattered side on to the trunk and fell harmlessly to the ground.
Daryl retrieved the dagger and handed it back to her. "Again."
"Close ya eyes," Daryl told her. "Just close em," he snapped exasperated when she hesitated. Obediently she complied. "Now, picture tha scene again in ya head. Remember tha weight a tha knife and when during ya throw ya released it. Hold all that in ya head, open ya eyes and hit tha fuckin tree."
Carol took a breath, trying to recreate the scene in her mind. Daryl hunched over his crossbow, loading it, the walker coming up behind. Her eyes opened and she raised her arm. The dagger felt good as it left her hand and she stared, her mouth open, as her blade hit the tree with a satisfying thunk and stuck there.
Daryl crossed his arms again looking at the dagger sticking out of the tree with a self-satisfied smirk on his face. "Now that is something we can work with."