A/N: Okay, so, I've been holding off on getting into TWD ever since it first started, knowing I'd love it and wanting to be able to gorge myself on episode after episode. I think I did pretty well lasting out as long as I did. LOL I love everything Andrew Lincoln has ever done and has followed his career from the beginning. I loved him in 'Teachers', such a great comedy, found him compelling in 'Strike Back' playing against Richard Armitage and was kind of torn apart by his character in 'After Life' – man, that was an intense show. Anyways, I've loved all of his work, and seeing as I'm a bit of a Zombie fangirl, I knew this show was going to be the perfect storm of awesomeness.

And it is. ;)

Now, after all that waxing lyrical about AL, this story is actually about the incredibly intriguing relationship between Daryl and Carol... which is why you've kindly decided to check this out, I'm guessing. I just love broken, tortured characters with these giant hearts and I think Daryl and Carol are both just that. They've had devastating lives from what we've been told about them so far, but in this new world, they're coming into their own and actually making a place for themselves. I love that. :D

I love how unconventional their relationship is, how hard it is to define, in fact it actually defies it. I love that ambiguousness of something that can't be easily put into a neat box and a label slapped on it. The way the NR and MM are playing their character's interactions, it gives such depth and poignancy to their scenes, that romance almost seems redundant. Their emotional intimacy is growing scene by scene and this might just be because I'm of the female persuasion, but that is way more enthralling to me then sweaty sex up against a wall.

The way I'm seeing the Caryl relationship ATM is along the lines of the relationship a knight used to have with his queen, back in the day. There was a deep loyalty and an intensity to their devotion, that for obvious reasons, could never go any further. There was a kind of purity to their love that gave real meaning and pathos to it. I don't know if the writers ever intend to take Caryl to the next level, but I certainly hope they keep this kind of devotion to one another going. TWD showcases a lot of loss of humanity, by nature of the genre, and the Caryl relationship is a much needed dose of heart in amongst all the bleak reality of, you know, a Zombie apocalypse. LOL

I'm writing this story because, one, the voices in my head are commanding me to do it. O.o But, it's also a challenge. If anyone has read any of my fics before, you'll know that I love writing for ensemble casts because I'm a dialog ho, just love all that back and forth energy. However, as devotees no doubt know, Daryl... not that big of a talker. That's going to be a big challenge to me to have him stay true to form. He has bursts of dialog, most often with Carol, so that works for me, but I don't want to turn him into a Chatty Cathy, because that is just not how Daryl Dixon rolls. ;)

The other problem for me is that I tend towards a comedic air in a lot of my stories. I relish the absurd but again, that's not the overtone of TWD. Apparently, when the world ends with the undead trying to eat the flesh off you bones, there isn't much to laugh about. Who'd have thunk it? LOL I have to reign in my love for comedic moments as much as I can, but knowing my limits, I've decided to give myself some wiggle room and use the most comedic character on the show right now (you know, before they kill him, because this is TWD) to drive this story – Axel. Ah, the bearded stoner with the motor mouth, what a perfect foil you make for the recalcitrant Daryl who is one step away from communicating in clicks and whistles.

Let the good times roll. :D

Okay, congrats if you made it through that huge monologue of an a/n. You can always tell how excited I am by something by the length of my a/n's.

Thanks for checking the story out, hope you enjoy...

Chapter One

Carol dragged her trowel through the freshly up-turned dirt, making a neat line to plant out the lettuce seeds in. The group had worked hard to get the enclosed area of the prison ready to take a crop and now it was finally ready to plant. Multiple runs into town had stocked them up pretty well with various seeds and utensils, now it was just a matter of planting everything and praying it would grow. A sustainable food source was vital if they had any chance of surviving long term in the relative safety of the prison. Carol planted out the row and moved to do the next. She'd been at it for a couple of hours now and had a lot to show for her hard work. It felt good to be doing something positive for a change. Her life had become so much about death, it was a welcome relief to be encouraging life, instead of always ending it. Carol wiped at her sweaty brow with the back of her hand but didn't stop working.

She could feel his eyes on her as she worked quietly away, but then, she could always feel his eyes watching her. It had been the same with Ed, even though the feeling had been completely different. Carol used to feel her husband's dark and controlling gaze on her without even looking. She could feel his rage and violence rolling out across a crowded room, finding her, demanding her subservience otherwise there would be hell to pay. There usually was hell to pay anyway. There had been no way to appease Ed Peletier because there was something missing deep inside of him. Something he'd expected Carol and their daughter to fill, but they never would be able to. Carol had hated the feeling of always being watched, her actions always judged and found wanting. It had made her skin crawl and want to just disappear inside herself, so that no one could see her, least of all Ed.

But it was different with Daryl.

Daryl's eyes on her never felt demanding or like an invasion. It made Carol feel safe to know that he was currently standing on top of the overturned bus, on the lookout for any Walkers which might breach the fences surrounding them. She didn't have to turn around to know that he'd be standing there, looking relaxed, crossbow dangling from his arm while his gaze swept the area over and over again. Carol also didn't need to turn around to know when that same blue-eyed gaze would settle on her briefly before heading back to the fences. She wasn't sure when it had happened exactly, but Carol knew that she'd become Daryl's point of reference in the group. He was an integral part of the group now, but she and Daryl were their own kind of group first. It had started while they'd been looking for Sophia, but it was only after having to bury her daughter that the shift had happened. Daryl had been intent on isolating himself from the rest of the group and Carol understood why. He'd let himself care about something other than his own survival and the worst had happened. Daryl had just wanted that distance back, so that he wouldn't have to deal with his pain and worse, the pain of others, her pain, anymore.

But Carol hadn't let him.

She wouldn't let Daryl retreat away from the only source of comfort left in this world, the group. None of them were perfect and they had their share of fights and conflict but they were the only home any of them had left now. She'd lost everything that mattered in the world to her when Sophia died, and Carol had been determined that she wasn't going to lose anyone else, at least not willingly. She'd fought to keep him from disappearing inside of himself and eventually her dogged determination had seen Daryl walk back into the group, ready to stand in their number, instead of always off to one side. Carol had a feeling that no one had ever fought for Daryl his entire life. What little she knew of his parents told her that they'd never cared for their son and protected him as parents should and Carol had seen with her own eyes Daryl's relationship with his brother. Merle might think he was the one looking out for Daryl, but Carol saw different. She saw in Merle the same things she saw in her husband. They were angry, controlling men who ultimately thought of themselves first and others second. They might call themselves loyal and claim their actions as a man looking to protect family, but they weren't.

She'd fought for Daryl not to retreat into himself for her sake, but mostly for his and her determination had left a mark on both of them. No one had ever fought for her either and throughout all of this horror, she and Daryl had come to a silent understanding that they'd always be each other's first defender, even from themselves. Carol couldn't help but smile a little at that thought. Her whole life she'd felt helpless and ineffectual and believed herself useless. It was funny to think one person could change your idea of who you were so completely. Carol liked to think she'd returned the favour for Daryl.

"Looks like you could do with some help."

Carol started at the sound of Axel's voice behind her and she quickly twisted around from where she was kneeling in the dirt. She looked up at the other man, not happy that he was able to sneak up on her like that. Carol had learnt hyper-vigilance over this last year and it annoyed her to think she'd dropped her guard.

Axel stuck his hands in his pockets. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare ya."

"You didn't," said Carol calmly, returning to her work.

Axel squatted down beside her. "If you want, I can help. I'm good with plants. Used to do some farming myself, back in the day."

Carol was conscious that they had all of Daryl's attention now. She glanced over towards him to see him staring at her and Axel, an unhappy expression on his face. Carol understood. None of them were completely at ease in the company of the newcomers. Theirs was such a tight knit group, who'd gone through so much together, it was hard to allow others in. Trust was a rare and precious commodity and no one handed it out lightly anymore. Carol had been as wary as everyone else but had to admit, she didn't find anything in particular about Axel to worry about. He was eager to please and while that could be a bit annoying, it wasn't a crime. "Let me guess," said Carol wryly. "That would be farming pot, right?"

"It's still a plant," he defended his choice of crop.

"Mm," said Carol, not commenting further.

Axel grabbed up a pitchfork, still keen to help, despite Carol's lack of enthusiasm. "I'll turn over some more ground for you."

Carol stopped what she was doing briefly and looked at him. "I really don't need the help."

Axel grinned, making his handle-bar moustache do a little dance. "Everyone needs some help sometime, I reckon."

Carol shook her head and gave a little laugh. "I suppose they do."

Axel pointed his fork at an exposed piece of rock in the garden bed in front of them. "Look, you've still got rocks in here."

Carol went to pull the rock out just as Axel did the same thing, only he was using the fork. In his haste to be helpful, Axel ended up jamming the fork into Carol's hand as she put her hand on the rock. Carol screamed and pulled her hand away as pain shot up her arm. She went to stand up, but her knees seized from being in one position for too long. The result was Carol ended up toppling to one side, clutching her throbbing and now bleeding, gloved hand to her chest.

Axel looked stricken. "Oh shit," he said anxiously, "I'm real sorry. I didn't mean to do that."

"Carol!"

Carol heard Daryl shouting her name as she squeezed tightly on her bleeding hand with her other hand.

Axel was bending over her, concern written all over his face. "You okay? Is it bad?"

Before Carol could answer him, Axel was suddenly ripped from her view as Daryl grabbed him and dragged the hapless man away from her.

"What the hell did you do?!" Daryl screamed at Axel. "Get away from her!"

Carol glanced over at the nearby fence, seeing the Walkers already starting to congregate at the smell of fresh blood and raised voices.

Axel had his hands up in front of him, looking contrite as he stayed down on the ground. "It was an accident, man. I swear I didn't mean it."

Daryl made a violent motion towards him and Axel flinched away, rolling up in a protective ball. Daryl made a disgusted sound and then he was crouching down beside her. "What happened?" he asked urgently. "What did he do?" Daryl wrapped his fingers around her wrist and pulled on it, wanting to see the damage for himself.

Carol grimaced as she gingerly let him uncurl her hand. Blood was soaking through her gardening glove.

Daryl threw Axel an enraged look. "You son of a bitch!"

"It was an accident," whined Axel. "I didn't mean no harm."

"It was an accident," agreed Carol, cursing herself for her carelessness. She scowled. "I'm so stupid, it's my right hand, I'm not going to be able to shoot right for days." It was all she could think of. Her lack of attention had made the group more vulnerable.

"You ain't the stupid one," said Daryl, treating Axel to another angry glare. His attention was back on Carol. "We've got to take the glove off, see how bad it is."

"I know," Carol sighed. She gritted her teeth and didn't complain as Daryl pulled off her glove. Carol watched him, face set in a scowl of concentration as he tried not to hurt her and she was struck yet again by the many different sides to this man. To look at him anyone would think they were looking at a violent and angry redneck, and while Daryl certainly knew how to hold his own, Carol knew there was so much more to him. He was capable of great tenderness which his gruff exterior belied. Watching him holding Judith or now, carefully examining her bleeding hand, Daryl could definitely be gentle when he wanted to.

Daryl's face darkened as he took a closer look at her hand. "It's deep," he said unhappily, taking in the puncture wound on the top of her hand, just between her thumb and index finger.

Carol made a frustrated sound. "We can't really spare the bandages," she fretted, still annoyed with herself. "Damn it."

"It's still bleeding pretty bad." He stood up and then bent down to help her to her feet. "Come on, we gotta get you to Hershel."

Carol shook her head. "I can find my own way." She inclined her head towards the fence. "You need to get back on lookout." Daryl's face hardened, obviously unhappy with her solution but Carol knew the group's safety was more important. "Go on, I'll be fine."

"I'll take you," said Axel, trying to be helpful as he went to stand up too.

"You stay away from her!" Daryl barked at him.

Carol gave a little shake of her head at Axel, warning him not to push it. She looked back at Daryl and smiled reassuringly. "I'm fine. I'll be back in a few minutes, once I've cleaned up." Carol felt his gaze on her as she walked away, felt his concern as he watched to make sure she made it safely back into the prison. The Walkers snarled and hissed at her through the wire of the fences. They lunged for her as they were driven into a frenzy by the smell of her blood, dripping freely from her hand. Was there ever going to be a day in this new world where one of them wasn't bleeding from a new wound, she wondered in exasperation.

Probably not.

A/N: Okay, so, it's probably a bit hard to see where I'm going with all of this from the first chapter, but hang in there, I do have a point. And it's a point that will see a deepening of the relationship between Caryl as they attempt to define the undefinable. ;) Next chapter is written, just waiting to see how interested folks are. Let me know and thanks for reading.