Disclaimer: I do not own The Walking Dead or its characters in any part. I'm just borrowing them for the purposes of this brainchild, which was the result of tumblr's bullettimescully posting a rather interesting prompt regarding spoilers for Season 03 x 09. If you haven't seen it, I recommend not reading this until you have.
She kept them there to remind her.
Daryl's few belongings: a spare pair of pants they had found before leaving the farm, the knife he had given to her, a few handguns she was surprised to find, and a rucksack she still couldn't bring herself to open, all sat on the floor in the corner of her cell. She had moved them there off the perch, mostly to clear space for people coming and going, but also because she could see the way people looked at them with such sadness whenever they passed.
And she felt the sadness too.
With every fibre of her being, she felt the sting of loss like a new burn on her skin. She wouldn't have ever likened it to the the abuse she received from her dead husband, but just knowing that Daryl had left them all for a jackass like Merle - Carol bit her lip in what was a mix between sorrow and frustration.
She had told Beth Greene that if Ed had shown up there, asking her to leave with him, she would have said 'go to Hell' and been done with it. She even thought she believed it. Just as much as she would have liked to believe that Daryl would have done the same when faced with Merle.
Only, Merle did come back. They did come face-to-face, and Daryl chose his blood over the bonds he had formed with everyone in their group. But she couldn't hate him for it, because she did understand why it happened; why he couldn't just say 'go to Hell' to his older brother and return to the prison with Rick and the others.
Carol heaved a sigh and her eyes turned once again on the rucksack that rested on top of the pants, folded neatly by her after finding them sort of strewn out in the cell he had been occupying in his days before leaving the prison. No one had even batted an eye when they saw her cleaning up his things, putting them out of sight - she figured that if there wasn't anything around of his, it would be easier for the whole group to get over the loss.
But she wasn't sure she wanted to.
Clinging to the memory of Daryl kept her mind off other things: off the loss of Sophia, still as fresh in her mind as the day her little girl walked out into the sunlight, no longer human... and off Rick's most recent breakdown - that she feared was only the beginning of something worse, which she knew meant trouble for everyone.
And so she sat on her cot, back against the wall and her knees pulled up to her chest, looking at Daryl's things because when she did, she thought of the way his blue eyes looked in the morning after a night of watch, alive and bright. She thought of those little twitches of his lips, how they would almost turn upward into a smile in one corner, and how those slight movements had become noticeably more frequent since he found her half-dead in that cell.
Suddenly, the memories were too much for her, and she felt the familiar sting of tears in her eyes. She forced herself to look away then, her eyes darting to her knees. The dust and grime there wasn't sufficiently interesting to hold her gaze, and she silently cursed herself for weakness as the tears began to roll slowly down her cheeks.
It had already been two days since Rick had returned without Daryl, and it felt like an eternity had passed since she felt the warm of his hand on her shoulder, looking at her with those eyes of his and telling her to "stay safe".
Minutes later, when the tears seemed to abate, Carol crawled off the thin mattress and onto the floor, reaching out for the rucksack with a trembling hand.
She wasn't sure why she did it, but she tugged the bag to her and curled up with it, again her back resting against the cold cell wall.
Her head tilted back, eyes closing a s she got herself under control, the tears still falling but her breathing returning to normal. The tightness in her chest didn't dissipate as her fingers absentmindedly played with the zipper, pulling it unintentionally.
Carol looked down momentarily, her eyes falling first on the gap in the zipper's teeth, before registering what she saw there in between.
And when she did, the tears that had only just taken their leave returned in full force, an uncontrollable sob escaping before she had time to clap her other hand over her mouth.
Sadness tore through her as her hands went, of their own accord, digging into the backpack and pulling the thick material out from its confines.
The bright red and orange patterns of Daryl's poncho pooled over her legs as she enveloped herself in it. Making herself as small as possible, it covered her legs and most of her shoulders. Carol buried her face in it, the threads still carrying the smell of dirt and Daryl's sweat, which only made her sobbing worse.
Two days and it hurt this much.
Two weeks felt impossible.
Anything longer than that, she realized, she didn't want to feel at all.
Two hours later, when Axel came to tell Carol it was her turn to go on watch, he stopped dead in the doorway of her cell when he saw her. Wrapped up in a garish blanket of sorts, she sat slumped against the wall with her eyes closed in sleep, arms wrapped protectively around her middle, and both hands oddly holding bunches of the tasseled fabric as though she didn't ever want to let go.