AN…Firstly, I just want to say that I know The Morning After Pill does not produce an abortion. Please don't flame me for the opinion of the WD characters. Secondly, this is my birthday week and I'm feeling generous. My plan had been to post 3 chapters, possibly in one day, but as Rae is the ONLY person who expressed an opinion, I'm going to do one a day until I feel like that's enough—but at least three. Depends on if I manage to write anymore this week. I am utterly devastated by yesterday's episode so I've written a Merle piece. It started out as a platonic Merle/Carol thing but it didn't stay that way. At this point it's a one shot, but as anything else, it could become more. Caryl is my ship of choice, but I truly do love Merle as well. Anyway, if you're interested, I plan to post that hopefully within the next hour. Thank you everyone who has stuck by this story so far…I have no idea how long it is going to go on for but I don't see the end in sight yet!

Part 15

The tension in the camp was stifling. Carol looked around at everyone, eyes focused on their current tasks, no one with the time to look up at her, the husbandless, childless woman who put on a brave face every day and helped them to keep themselves together. Carol didn't mind, but sometimes she felt lonelier than she ever had as an abused wife—when she'd been too afraid to speak too loud, to talk to her neighbours, to breathe in case it set Ed off and she fell victim to another of his frenzied self-hate sessions. Or, at least, that was her amateur psychology talking. It was the only way for her to reconcile herself to the fact that she'd stayed with an ugly, cold, bully of a man who'd started to contemplate his own daughter in a way not fitting for a father to do. No, he had to have hated himself and took it out on her, otherwise how could she have been so wrong when choosing her life mate?

Carol turned to watch Lori, the brunette vigorously scrubbing some shirts in a tub while she instructed her son on how to follow out the school lessons that were becoming less and less frequent. Carol could see the strain on Lori's face, the exhaustion that hadn't existed a few weeks ago, and wondered why it was there now when their time on the farm was safer and more relaxed than it had been for the weeks before they'd arrived. Even with walkers in the barn, the woman should have felt safe with the men constantly taking shifts to ensure the dead didn't break through the barn doors. When Lori slowed her washing, dragged a hand out of the tub to hold against her stomach and then went green, Carol suddenly put puzzles pieces together as the woman ran from her task to the other side of the RV, and vomited up what little food she'd been eating.

Startled at her discovery, Carol followed, stopping as she came to a woman in tears with a string of saliva still stretched from her lips. Carol quickly ducked back to grab a hand towel and a bottle of water from the makeshift kitchen area and took it to her friend. Lori smiled weakly her gratitude, then leaned back against the RV with her eyes closed.

"Rick doesn't know," she said and Carol glanced up in surprise. Had Rick been back with them long enough for him to be the one who should hear the news? Or maybe to Lori it didn't matter. It was a delicate situation and suddenly she was very concerned for Shane, hoping this wouldn't push him further over the edge that he was teetering upon.

"He won't hear it from me." Carol reached over and took Lori's hand, squeezing it lightly as Lori dissolved into tears.

"Thank you, Carol," she sobbed out miserably, sliding down the RV to sit on the grass. "Glenn keeps telling me I should tell Rick and now Dale knows and I don't know how long I can keep it a secret, but I want to decide what to do before I drag Rick into this mess."

"It's a big decision, even before when we weren't being chased by walkers," Carol agreed, her heart going out to Lori. "What do you want to do?" As horribly confusing and depressing her own life was right now, Carol didn't envy Lori this decision. "Lori, you have to know, whatever you decide, we'll support you. Some might not be happy about it—either way—but in the end, we're there for you."

Lori looked at her like she could hardly believe what she was hearing. "How can you sit there and not hate me?"

Carol wondered how much of her own conflict about this news was visible on her face, because she believed Lori might not have come to that conclusion if she could see the train wreck of emotion tearing her up on the inside.

"I admit I'm jealous of you," Carol said, looking away from the woman at her side and peering off into the distance of Herschel's fields. "You have a healthy son and a baby on the way and a husband who would do anything to put you first. I have nothing, just a past that would break me open if I let it. A dead daughter, dead husband, two abortions…" she revealed nervously, a sideways look at Lori enough to gauge the shock the other woman experienced. "I couldn't risk bringing another child into our house. I could barely keep Sophia safe as it was, and look how that turned out?" Carol choked on a forced laugh, her eyes filled with bitter tears. "I made that choice, and I don't regret it, because my husband was an evil, angry son of a bitch. But if it was now…if I was having a baby now when we might be struggling for enough food, struggling to stay alive with a baby crying and calling walkers down on us, but I had a man that loved me and was good to me, I would do everything in my power to keep that baby alive. That baby would be hope and love and every good thing we're fighting for."

Lori was looking at her like she'd never seen her before and Carol was feeling a lot like a woman that she'd never recognised as herself. Lori shook her head as if to clear it, awe in her gaze as she once again turned to Carol. "I'm not sure if this baby is…Rick's." She waited for censure, but Carol was the last one who'd ever give it to her.

"You think it might be Shane's?" Carol waited for Lori's slow nod, the brunette's eyes watering up and her lips quivering with fear. "I think Rick would understand that, too. You both thought he was dead. He knows it's a miracle he's not, and that he even found you." She rubbed Lori's hands in hers, feeling the chill within the other woman and wanting nothing more than to help her be right with this. There was so very little room in their lives now for regret over mistakes that were made when fearing death.

"I feel so sick inside for not at least waitin' for his figurative grave to grow cold."

Carol rubbed a hand over her face, feeling suddenly weary about how much loss that kept hitting them, how much change they were forced to embrace in order to keep surviving.

"Lori, no one knew what was happening. You could have been dead any day after you hit the road. Life is too short and when the world is at war, you take comfort where you can." She stopped for a second, suddenly struck by other possibilities and feeling a little gutted by them. "Do you love Shane?"

"No, no. Of course not," Lori answered too quickly, and Carol's heart sank. This was going to be so much harder if Shane was torn between a woman that might actually love him in return and his own baby when she was resolute in staying with Rick. "I care about him a whole lot," Lori said, her voice quiet and pinched in that half-truth kind of way that made Carol feel suddenly afraid. "I mean, he saved Carl and me. He got us out. But, Rick is my husband and when I thought he was dead, I felt so broken. I love Rick, but, we were havin' problems even before he got shot, and this baby? It really could belong to either one of them."

Carol stared at the ground, thinking hard. "You have to forget about the men," she decided, pinning Lori with a look so intent that it shook the both of them. "They will tear you apart and if you're not even sure about how you feel about either of them, you need to forget about them. What do you feel when you think about this pregnancy?"

Lori blanched, grief taking root and spreading over her face, She shook her head fiercely, her whole body screaming 'No,' indicating to Carol that a decision had been made, but that it so far had been swayed by guilt. "I don't want it to be Shane's," Lori hissed in sudden revulsion, and Carol revised her earlier thought about Lori loving the other man. "But…I don't want to bring a child into this world. I don't want to be the reason a herd comes when it cries and could kill any of you. It's too dangerous, Carol. This baby isn't hope, it isn't love. It's just a mistake that could end up getting us all killed."

Lori fell sideways against Carol's shoulder and Carol automatically embraced her, tears in her own eyes at how much this loss would be to them all. New life could have been something they'd all look toward to keep them fighting. To give them all hope for a brighter future. There could have been so much of the positive to come out of it, but she guessed, when it started out so negative, it would be impossible to take the steps needed to achieve that future—and maybe their existence was currently too perilous to risk an infant.

"Maybe, one day…"

"You're still young. There's plenty of time to make those decisions later on," Carol whispered into Lori's hair, letting the other woman sob out her grief for the baby she didn't want. "We should talk to Herschel, but you will need to tell Rick what you've decided. Don't ask Herschel to do anything without telling Rick first."

"Herschel's a man of religion. I don't think he'd be willing to help me with that. It's okay. Glenn picked me up The Morning After pill; I just haven't had the courage to take them yet."

Making the decision seemed to take a great weight off her shoulders and Lori sat up, rubbing the handtowel over her face and wiping away the tears and grime. She laughed nervously and leaned back against the wheel of the RV.

"So, how are you doing?" The concern in Lori's eyes made Carol wilt.

"I feel a little hollow," she admitted, struggling to paint an accurate picture of what life was like for her at the moment without her daughter. "There are some moments…where it doesn't seem so hard, but most of the time I'm fighting to keep my head above water."

"Like at the lake?" Lori prodded, a twinkle in her eye as she jabbed her elbow into Carol's ribs.

"Well, that was a bit of a challenge," she admitted, remembering how heavy her clothes were as she'd tried to tread water.

"So, Daryl really threw you in then?"

Carol nodded, then jumped as Lori snorted and giggled. She felt a smile flutter at her lips and she remembered back to that night and admitted to herself that it hadn't exactly been hollow she'd been feeling when she was with Daryl.

"Was that one of those moments where it wasn't so…hard?" Lori's face had transformed, humour making the few gentle wrinkles at her eyes crinkle and her smile was warm.

"What are you suggesting?" Carol struggled to hide a cheeky grin, wishing she actually knew the truth to that question.

"I'm suggesting that there's something between you and Daryl. Is there?" Lori leaned forward, eager for gossip.

"No," Carol admitted. "Nothing like that. I care about him," she said, cringing at how closely she was mirroring Lori's previous words about Shane when she knew full well her feelings for the man who resembled more a diamond in the rough than anyone she'd ever known were deeper than she'd have thought possible. They barely knew each other, but Carol guessed she might know him better than anyone. "I care about him a great deal. I care about everyone in the group, Lori. You know that."

"Yes, but Daryl is somethin' else," Lori prodded, knowing there was more than what Carol was admitting to.

"Are you waiting for me to say he's special? 'Cause that goes without sayin'. What he's done, trying to find Sophia, taking care of me…yeah, he's special, but no matter how I might feel—and please don't think I know that myself—I don't think he's the kind of man who lets a woman in easily."

Lori seemed to accept that and fell silent, thinking.

"Anything worth fighting for isn't going to be easy," Lori said and finally dragged herself up off the ground. "If you want that man, Carol, you gotta make him see that it's worth lettin' you in. Who knows, maybe that baby could be something you can hope for after all?" Lori didn't wait for her reply, ducking back around the RV to finish off her washing, leaving Carol deep in thought.

Daryl was never, ever going to agree to take watch on the RV again. Dale and Andrea could rot in Hell before he ever got suckered into either one of their sob stories about needing a break from watch. He had no clue how much of the camp gossip they must have been privy to all this time, but it was something he wanted no part of.

He didn't give a shit that Lori was pregnant, not that he was surprised. As stealthy as Shane had thought he was, Daryl didn't think anyone in the camp back at the quarry had been in the dark about the affair, except maybe the kids. He was partway to feeling sorry for Rick when he remembered the hug he'd shared with Carol, then forced himself to stop being a jackass. Rick was a good man, Daryl knew it, but what he didn't know, didn't understand about himself, was why he felt like someone was slicing him up on the inside whenever he saw Carol with any of the men in the group that wasn't him.

The talk he overheard affected him in ways he'd never anticipated. He'd never heard Carol share anything about her life before they'd met at the quarry, and now he thought himself stupidly simple for not thinking beyond the physical pain and violence she'd undoubtedly suffered at the hands of her husband's fists. He couldn't help but admire her for making the hard decisions, recognising for herself when life had thrown her up a wall and totally fucked her over. He might have respected her less for bringing more children into the life she'd known, much like he had his own momma for throwing him into hers.

He'd stilled in anger when Rick's wife brought him into the conversation. He didn't like being the topic of their gossip, and he liked it less when the woman had made innuendos about something between him and Carol that just wasn't there. His mind and body burned with memories of the kiss she'd laid on him and his confusion and fear ratcheted up a notch. He held his breath, wanting to know what Carol's intentions behind the lip lock had been, but wanting also to shut them the hell up before she could tell. It turned out Carol wasn't the type to kiss and tell and he smirked at that, relief rushing through him, until they implied he might be worth the effort of a fight, and when Lori started talking about babies he almost lost his shit right there on the RV.

He waited for Lori to leave, a little surprised that Carol had stayed behind, and for all of two seconds the memory of that kiss at the lake prevented him from letting her know he was above her taking watch. Then he was calling down to her, smirking at how she jumped a mile at the sound of his voice.

"Carol. Get your ass up here. Now."

She craned her neck and looked up, gasping as she realised he must have heard every word of her conversation with Lori. Without a word she stood and ran around the RV to the ladder, scrambling up the side to the roof.

"What are you doing here?" Carol asked in a whisper, nervously wringing her hands together.

"You need to stay outta their business," he growled, dropping back down in the deck chair Dale had set up on top for those taking watch.

"It's not that easy, Daryl. An' it's not the way friends work."

"You ain't friends with Rick, or Shane. This ain't got nothin' to do with you."

Carol was watching him. He could feel the burn of her stare as she studied how he was bent forward in the chair, elbows resting on his knees as he periodically looked through Dale's binoculars, studiously ignoring her presence, and he recognised when the lightbulb went off in her head. "This about Lori deciding to not go through with the pregnancy or because I said I think you're special?"

His jaw tensed and for an insane second, he thought Carol was going to laugh at him.

"I think she made the right decision for her," she confided, taking the risk to go closer and kneeling down next to his chair. She reached for the binoculars, almost pulling them from his hands when he refused to surrender them up so easily.

"It might be the right decision, don't mean Rick or Shane can't come back and blame you for it when they find out about it."

He felt gratified at seeing the small spark of worry in her eyes as she frowned. The binoculars lifted up to her face and she looked out over the field, her thoughts to herself. Five minutes of silence was starting to feel like the best minutes of his life when she dropped them down, straightening her shoulders and brushed against his leg as she tried to get more comfortable. He should have offered her the chair, but he wasn't feeling so accommodating.

"Shane's lost his way a little bit," she agreed, finally, "but I don't think he'd do anything stupid."

Daryl speared her with an incredulous expression. "Woman, are you blind? Shane's two seconds away from losin' his shit completely and I don't want you gettin' caught in the crossfire."

Her face relaxed in wonder and Daryl suddenly felt uncomfortable with the way she was looking at him. She stood so abruptly that he stood with her in surprise, feeling nervous about how close they now were to each other. Her eyes had become molten, infusing warmth through his body that was already overheating from the hot, summer's day.

"You must be starving," she said, and he was positive his head would burst from the double meaning, though he didn't think he could chastise her for flirting when he wasn't exactly certain that she was. Before he had a chance to react, before he could step back and fall on his ass tripping over the chair, her hand brushed over his in a caress that lit him up from the inside out. "I'll go get you something to eat."

And then she was gone, leaving him to feel frustrated as hell that it seemed to always be her walking away.