A/N: Here's a little something to help tide us over until February. Enjoy!
Nothing That This World Could Bring
Dark and lonely is the ride
the devil always by my side
Though no match for what lies between
a thought of you, your trust for me
Not even the sun
A bullet from a gun
No nothing that this world could bring
Or anything someone could do
Could hold me back from you
The Greatest Sum by The Avett Brothers
"Because I know him," Merle snaps. "He's a slippery sum'bitch but I know all his tricks and tells. Know what he's got hidden away in that little armory of his too."
"You keep saying that!" Glenn replies tightly. "But why the hell would we trust your word? You tried to kill me! Look at what your boss tried to do to Maggie! Hell, look at the bruises on your brother! How many of them did you put there?"
"You mind that mouth of yours, Chinaman, lest you find out what I do when I'm riled," Merle hisses, his lips curling back in a snarl and Hershel and Maggie protest, their voices echoing off the bare walls of the cell-block common area.
The argument rises up over the remains of dinner, just like it had that morning, and again yesterday when the group had finally shown back up at the gate with an injured Merle in tow and Carol winces internally, watching them from the corner of her eye as she clears the remaining dishes from the table.
Merle, pacing restlessly, all smiling contempt one moment, hurling insults the next. Michonne leaning on the opposite wall staring at him, not saying much, but grimly fingering the hilt of her sword. Glenn, with fists clenched and a voice as hard as she's ever heard it and the entire Greene family watching him anxiously. The newcomers gathered in a bunch, the girl's voice as shrill as her brother's is calm.
And Daryl, sitting alone in the half-shadow of the bottom step, scraping at the cement methodically with the tip of his knife. His face is turned away from her, from all of them, but watching him closely she can see the barest hint of a flinch whenever Merle lets loose with something particularly vicious. Her fingers itch to offer some kind of comfort, but she doubts it would be well-received. Not now anyway. Maybe not at all.
Rick moves back and forth between them all, trying to build some kind of consensus and when he catches her eye, she nods encouragingly. He's right, a decision has to be made.
Because fight, hide or run, the Governor is coming.
And Carol Peletier, she thinks with a wry twist of the lips as she steps outside onto the landing with her stack of plates to where she already has a pail of water set up, is still doing the dishes.
She doesn't mind, not really. She's always liked taking care of people and yes, the dishes, the cooking and the mending and the dozens of other tasks that she takes on are a part of that. Of course, so is the ability to make a kill-shot at a hundred yards and something inside her brightens at that thought. She's adapted.
It doesn't take long to scrub a few plates, or at least she doesn't think it does, but by the time she gets back, the common area is almost empty. Beth is at the table, making up a bottle for Judith-she can hear the baby's fussy cry coming from one of the cells along with the sound of Hershel's rhythmic shushing. Daryl's still on his step, scratching away.
"Where did everyone go?" she asks, looking at Daryl but it's Beth that answers her.
"They all went to the other cell-block. Tyreese has some topographical maps that he wanted to show Rick."
Daryl mumbles something that sounds like bullshit and she stops to consider it for a moment. They don't know these people and Daryl's instincts have saved them all more than once. But no. If he thought that Rick was in any danger, he'd be there. Still, she's noticed the way he watches them, Axel too for that matter, wariness and even a tinge of hostility in his sharp blue eyes.. It mirrors the way the rest of them are watching Merle and Carol knows that he's observed that too.
The baby wails again and Carol puts aside the sudden heaviness in her chest and turns back to Beth. "Looks like someone wants her dinner. Do you need any help?"
Beth gives the bottle one last shake. "Maybe getting her to sleep later? You're always so good at soothing her."
"I'll be over in a little bit," Carol promises as Beth heads back to the cells and suddenly it's just the two of them for the first time since he's been back.
Maybe she should put the dishes down before she drops them.
Her feet draw her closer and he stops digging the knife into the floor as she approaches but doesn't look up, doesn't give any other sign that he knows she's there. She hesitates, her mouth dry. He smiled at you, she reminds herself. Smiled at you and touched your shoulder and when he came back, you were the first person he looked for.
"You okay?" she asks carefully, and she could be asking about the bruises shadowing his face or his split lip or the new holes in his hide that Hershel had patched up. He probably knows she's not, though.
"Been better," he grunts in response but he also angles his body towards her slightly and it's enough of an invitation for her to sit down next to him. She can almost feel him uncoil beside her, the tension falling away from his shoulders and that's a source of pride too. Time was when no one could get close to him; he'd snap like a stray dog at any gesture of kindness. But the two of them...she's not sure how to define it. Sophia's disappearance may have pulled them into the same decaying orbit, but a winter's shared hardships made them friends. Springtime brought something else entirely and at times like this she feels the promise of it like a kiss.
"I been thinkin'," he says abruptly and she turns to him, hoping her cheeks aren't stained pink from the direction her thoughts have been taking.
All at once he surges to his feet and she rises too, startled, stepping away to peer behind him for the source of the threat. There's a sharp hit of adrenaline when she's held in place and then something else, something warmer flowing through her all the way down to her toes when she realizes it's him. He's gripping the hem of her shirt tightly, staring down at his hand with a frown like he's never seen it before.
"Carol, maybe you should go," he says, but he doesn't release her, instead he rubs the thin material between his thumb and forefinger.
"I don't...," she says hesitantly.
"I mean it. You should take that baby and go. Beth and Hershel too and Carl if we can get him to agree." She watches him swallow hard, but his voice is steady. "Leave while there's still time and hole up somewhere, maybe that old church out on route seventeen for a couple of days. Until this shit-storm blows over."
"No. Daryl. Just no," she whispers. It's a warm night and he takes a step closer, near enough so she can feel the heat radiating off him but she shivers anyway. Leaving? Doesn't he realize that's when things always go wrong?
"I know you don't like it," he says in an undervoice. "Hell, I don't like it much either but I can't protect you. Can't protect any of you. From the walkers, maybe. Can kill as many geeks as I need to if it'll keep you all safe. But it's the goddamn people who fuck it up every time." His hand moves to her hip, fingertips biting into her skin while his eyes plead with her. "And this Governor? Carol you weren't there in Woodbury. There's something wrong with him, something missing and I don't want you within a hundred miles of it."
There's a tiny part of her that wants to give in, to grab Judith and run like a child hiding under the bed from the thunder and lightning that's crashing down. But this is her home and this is her family and she's not going to let some asshole take it away without a fight.
"I know. I know you want to keep us all safe. And you're right, I wasn't in Woodbury with you." She reaches up a hand to brush against his bruised face and he catches her wrist with his free hand but lets her press her palm to his cheek. "But I...I know that there are people out there who want power, people who use fear and cruelty to dominate others."
People like Ed who spent years tearing her down and enjoyed it. The difference between the Governor and her late husband is not a difference in character, it's just a matter of degree.
"If we go...Daryl, he wants that. He wants to break us all up into pieces and pick us off one by one. We're only strong when we pull together."
He lets a puff of air out that she feels against her cheek and closes his eyes. "Didn't think it was gonna work," he mutters. "But shit, Carol, this world..."
He's so close, almost leaning against her, that it's easy to tilt her face up and brush her lips against his own. Of course he startles, eyes flying open, but he doesn't go far, just retreats a few inches.
"I know," she tries to reassure him once again, brushing her thumb along his cheekbone.
This time he's the one who closes the distance between them and the press of his mouth is clumsy and unpracticed and perfect.
From a distance she hears Beth calling her name and unwillingly she pulls back.
"I have to go help," she sighs and he nods, biting his lip. "Come with me?"
He lets out a breath and nods again and they walk shoulder to shoulder back to the cell-block.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed!