Notes: In a show about personal horror, I think the moment where Carol had to use Axel's body as a shield against the Governor's attack was one of the most personally horrifying I've seen. It was particularly wrenching after she'd been able to have a moment - for the first time, really - where she was valued for her survivalist skills by the very person that she lost. I'm not sure if any of the other characters would have valued Axel the way Carol would have. It's not a love connection by any means, but it was certainly something she hadn't gotten anywhere else (and perhaps couldn't, as I try to explain). BTW, it's really hard to write fanfiction for this show, 'cause there are so many great writers already working. Be kind.

**Edited for typing errors 3/23/13.

Disclaimer: Copyright for The Walking Dead belongs to AMC, et al. My writing belongs to me, as do errors.

Title: "To Give Back"

She hadn't been asleep, so she heard the shuffled footsteps and low voices when the watch shift changed. She had waited until all sounded settled again, and then waited a while longer before moving from her bunk. She'd be working hard, so she thought layers would be best - something she could peel off and put on as needed. She added a long sleeved tee and an additional tank over it before pulling on a loose knit sweater. She grabbed work gloves and her boots and stepped toward the door of the cell before thinking better of it, and stopping to pull on a knit cap. She had taken to sleeping with the cell door open since she was often watching Judith and had to be in and out for feeding and changing. But tonight the sweet bundle was with her father and brother. Carol hoped that the reality of the baby's needs would ground Rick in the present, and that time with his children would fortify his will.

Carol slipped silently from her cell in her stocking feet, not needing to disturb the creaky door, and not needing a light since the moon was only days from being full. It lit Block C with an eerie glow. She moved through to the common area and out to the exit off toward the yard where the basketball court had once been. Maneuvering her set of keys as quietly as possible she turned over the tumblers in the lock and eased the old hinges out, then reversed the motion once she was through, securing her people again. She leaned against the wall to pull on her boots. The night air was surprisingly fresh, as a stiff breeze had carried the scent of the afternoon's burning away. For that she was thankful. It would make the heavy breathing she was bound to be doing easier.

She jogged over to the silver truck and hitched herself over the tailgate. Pulling back the tarp she located one of the shovels and righted the cover again before stepping quickly down. She hoped all the hours of hauling, scrubbing, wringing, and hanging heaping loads of laundry had prepared her for this. She gloved up and propped the shovel over her shoulder as she began her walk toward tower two.

It had been three hard days of labor. They'd had to take back the yard from the aftermath of the Woodbury Trojan Horse attack without the security of the outer fences to assure them. The noise of their first assault had drawn a second wave of walkers that they had had to put down before they could begin the repairs.

When she reached the tower she pounded on the door then backed up to wave up when Glenn looked down. He waved back at her, and she could see him give her the "ok" sign. She had taken him aside at the evening meal and quietly told him to expect her during his watch. He had understood.

She continued down through the grass until she reached their makeshift graveyard. In the moonlight Carol could see the shrouded body that lay beside the three mounds of disturbed earth. Axel. There had not been time to lay him to rest properly while there were still fighting to be sure they didn't lose anyone else. But now there was time. Or at least, Carol was making the time.

Carol hadn't visited the graves before. What with being found in the isolation cell, the added responsibilities while the group was away to Woodbury retrieving Glenn and Maggie, and then the aftermath of the Governor's attack there just wasn't time. And, as she thought about it now, it would have been a bit strange to do so. Beth had told her that one of them was for her - empty though it was. Carol had planned to use that one for Axel. She would be able to dig it more easily, and it seemed somehow...right. His body had ensured that she would live. Her grave would ensure that his memory would do the same.

She could see that each grave was marked with a cross, but none had a name. As she looked closer, however, she could see that there were white stones arranged as letters on each: L, T, and on the last, C. That would be Axel's. She put the shovel down and bent to collect the stones. She would arrange them as an A for him. As she did, she realized that there was something among them. She brushed the grass and dirt away and picked up a dried flower.

It looked like it had been a Cherokee rose, like the one Daryl had given her for Sophia.

Her chest tightened, and her eyes stung. No. No, she could not think about this now. This was Axel's time. This was what she had promised she would do for the man who had, in death, saved her life. Swallowing hard Carol moved the stones and flower aside and placed them by Axel's shrouded form. Then she pulled up the cross and did the same. She picked up the shovel, then, and began the hard labor of digging the grave.

Carol quickly found a rhythm. The repetition of sink, lift, pitch...sink, lift, pitch...sink, lift, pitch...left her mind free to wander. The group had mostly found Axel annoying, and she had to admit that she had felt that as well. But those last few days, that last morning...he had managed to stand up straighter somehow. It was probably getting out of the prison uniform. Or maybe it was having new responsibilities once the rescue party had left. He had pulled back from trying to ingratiate himself with people and had just started doing what needed to be done. Carol thought to herself that to Tyreese and his people, Axel probably looked a lot more normal than Rick or Glenn, given their outrageous outbursts upon returning.

And then there was the attention he had paid her. She had been annoyed at first, but once Axel had started to act more independently, she found things about him to appreciate. He could tell an amusing story. He was sensitive. She wished that she could have told him how much it meant to her the way he had looked at her after she had showed him how to load the handgun. It had made her feel so powerful and...New. To this man she wasn't a mouse who had been abused, a woman who cried at the quarry when Shane beat her husband. To this man she wasn't a woman who didn't have the skills to search for her lost child. Axel had never known that Carol Peletier. Axel knew a woman who was better with a gun than he was. Axel knew a woman who protected young Beth from unwanted advances. Axel knew a woman who took the prison with a rifle, who survived on her own when everyone thought she was dead. The woman Axel knew was quite a lady.

Carol came out of her thoughts as she realized she'd been shoveling at an alarming pace. The hole was nearly ready. She stopped shoveling and dropped to her knees. She tossed the shovel on the grass, drawing breath in great gasps. And the tears came, rolling down her cheeks. Suddenly she was hot, and the sweater and the knit cap were too much. She yanked them off and threw them to the side. A great sob tore from her chest. She climbed out and crouched on her hands and knees in the grass. "Goddamn it, Axel!" she gasped between sobbing gulps. Why did he have to die in the middle of a story? She'd never know about his brother. She'd never be able to tease him about judging her by her short hair. She'd never have a friend who didn't first see her as a woman who pathetically crawled back to her dirtbag husband, or who pathetically couldn't defend her only child, or who pathetically begged others to "do something," or who was a pathetic burden to the group. "I didn't even know I needed someone to see me like that until you did!"

She flopped over onto her back, sobs lessening though the tears continued to leak from her eyes into the grass. She stared up at the sky. Wispy clouds chased around the waxing moon. The breeze was cooling her fast, and she knew she'd be shivering soon. She closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing slowly to calm herself. She was only half-way through this. Sitting up, she wiped her face on her sleeve and gathered herself. She stood and walked over to the body of her friend, the man who had paid her the highest of compliments.

Carol lifted his feet and dragged him to the graveside. Moving to his head, she shifted the body until he was directly parallel. It was heavy work. Finally, she stepped down in and eased first his shoulders down, then shimmied over and lifted in his legs. Climbing out, she crouched on her knees and sat back on her heels, letting her muscles rest.

"Axel, I want to thank you for being my friend. I hope that your last days were better for our knowing each other. I wish I could be the woman I saw myself being through your eyes. That was a pretty special gift to get in this hellish world. I know this isn't much, but it's what I have to give back."

Standing again she picked up the shovel. She felt several muscles twang, and she knew she would be sore tomorrow. It was difficult watching the soil cover her friend's body. By the time the hole was filled Carol could hear the earliest bird song beginning, and the sky was starting to grey in the east. Using the shovel as a hammer she drove the cross in at the head of the grave again. She picked up the white stones and placed them in the form of an A in the soil. She removed her gloves and tucked the flower inside one of them. She was too tired to think about what it might mean at the moment. She gathered her sweater and cap under her arm and using the shovel as a walking stick began her trek back up to the building.

As she reached the tower she looked up and waved to Glenn. "About done?" she called.

"Yeah. Probably."

"Wanna walk in with me?"

"Be right down!"

Within moments Glenn was pushing the door open and had stepped up beside her. "Heard a bit of commotion down there last night. Have any trouble?" Glenn seemed to be very interested in checking the sky for changing weather conditions.

"Just the kind of trouble you expect from stubborn old dirt. Thanks for keeping an eye out for me, Glenn. I needed some privacy and I didn't want to explain. He's buried. And I feel better."

Glenn nodded, and put an arm lightly around her shoulders. "I'll tell people we were on watch together if they ask. Interested in some breakfast?"

"I think I hear some powdered eggs calling our names." She smiled, and began to move.