When they came back, ragged and sweaty and bloody, she was waiting with bandages and water. Glen looked the worst, his face distorted by the bruises and swelling and blackened, crusty blood. Carol stepped aside to let Hershel pass and corrected her course for Michonne. The other woman visibly stiffened as Carol approached her, her dark eyes narrowing and her mouth turning down in a grimace. Carol knew better than to offer sympathy, so she offered water instead. Michonne drank a mouthful and spat blood, but Carol didn't flinch. Something was wrong; it was obvious by the tension humming in the air, in the way Rick's gaze wheeled from person to person. Maggie was quietly weeping, and when Carol lightly touched her shoulder and murmured her name, the younger girl sagged into her arms, words tumbling out in a jumble. Carol stroked her hair and stared, aghast, at Hershel, then at Rick. She could barely understand what Maggie was saying because the girl was crying so hard, her fingertips digging into Carol's back.
"Everybody inside, now," Rick ordered, his voice ragged with exhaustion.
Carol turned to lead Maggie inside but stopped, counted heads again. Her heart thudded in her throat as she looked from face to face and realized more than one was missing.
Carol saw the way Rick looked at her, and she couldn't read the expression on his face. And then she heard what Maggie was saying, and her knees gave out for a second or two, but she squared her jaw and steeled her spine and half-dragged, half-walked Maggie towards the relative coolness of the building.
Inside, she was screaming.
It was Rick who finally cornered her. Rick, who looked like he'd aged twenty years in three days, told her she had to sleep at some point, that going on like this wasn't good for her.
"I'm fine," Carol said as she changed Judith's wet diaper.
"You're not," he said. "None of us are, but you're barely eating, and you're not sleeping."
"I'm fine," she said again, holding the baby against her shoulder. She breathed in and out and concentrated on Judith's warm weight and the tiny, kitten-mewl noises she was making. "I'm fine."
She walked away from him and counted her steps to keep from breaking down.
When she stumbled over her own feet and fell on the hard-packed dirt outside, it was Carl who came to her and stood over her while she wept into her hands. She dimly heard voices, heard her name, and then Carl spoke up and said she was fine, just to give her a minute. The steadiness of his voice made her cry harder. She rested her aching head on her palms. "I'm okay," she told Carl, her voice muffled by her position.
"Yes, ma'am," the boy said.
It took her a few more minutes to get the energy to sit up. She shut her eyes against the way the yard pitched and swayed. She felt something nudge her pinkie before a small, dry hand closed around hers.
They sat together, the motherless boy and the childless mother, while the sun beat down and the world spun on.
She was dreaming, she had to be, because everything was jumbled up and didn't make sense. Too much noise, too many voices. Her head hurt. Something bad had happened. She needed to wake up. Carol dug her nails into her palm. Wake up, wake up. She was swimming through something thick and suffocating. Something tugged on her wrist. Wake up, wake up. She gasped and kicked out with one foot.
"...let her be..."
"...be mad if we..."
"...too long without sleep..."
Wake up, wake up.
She bolted upright with a strangled gasp. Maggie was on her knees beside her, her hands darting from Carol's shoulder to her face. She was saying something, her voice urgent and high pitched, but Carol couldn't understand what she was saying. Instinct drove her to her feet, and her head swam, and she clutched at Maggie to keep from falling.
"Come with me," Maggie said, tugging her upright.
"Maggie, give her a minute." Hershel's voice was stern, but when Carol finally focused on him, she could see the barest curl of a smile at the corner of his mouth.
"Can't," Maggie said. "Come on, Carol."
She probably should have been embarrassed for being found sleeping where Daryl usually slept, up on the landing, but she was too sore and tired and not really awake enough for embarrassment. Carol let Maggie pull her along until bright sunlight stabbed invisible daggers into her eyes. She squinted and put her hand up to shield her face. She could hear a commotion up ahead, near the fence. Angry voices, shouting, curses. Carol dug in her heels, her hand automatically going to the small of her back only to find no gun there. She found the strength to haul back on Maggie's forward pull. "Need my gun!" she hissed.
"No," Maggie said. "Just look." She took Carol by the shoulders and held her still. "Just look."
Her eyes were tearing up from the relentless onslaught of bright light. Carol blinked and squinted. Rick and Carl and Glen-good Lord, what was he doing up-and two other men were shouting at each other. She could see drawn guns and angry gestures and...
"Wait! WAIT!" Maggie's hands bit into her upper arms. Carol twisted in her grasp, her breath hissing out in a silent scream. Maggie crossed her arms around her. "He's fine, he's fine," Maggie kept saying over and over. "Let them finish yelling at each other."
Carol broke free. To hell with this. She ran, even though her body screamed at her to stop, even though her breath was jagged glass in her lungs. She ran and saw Carl's head whip around to her, dimly heard him shout at his father. The sane part of her mind realized that they hastily lowered their guns as she ran into their line of sight. The sane part of her mind told her to stop, get out of the way. She ignored it, ignored it all except for the way he squinted at her and held out one arm and caught her in mid jump. She locked her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist and felt her breath leave her as their bodies collided. Her momentum made him stumble back against the fence, but she didn't care. She didn't care that she smelled almost as bad as he did, she didn't care that he was filthy, she didn't care about anything except that she could feel his heart thundering against her chest.
"Jesus, woman," Daryl grumbled against her ear. "D'ya hafta make such a big deal?"
"Shut up," Carol said, and she turned her head and kissed him on the mouth as the world slid into place and made sense again.