Title: Holding on at the Edge of the World
Disclaimer: The Walking Dead does not belong to me.
Summary: There's too much to say and no words to begin, so she utters the only thing she can and hopes that somehow he understands. And then, she holds out her hand. Set after 3x10, Home. (Caryl)
She followed him here. Shadowed behind him while he stalked up the stairs and into a cell above the chaos of Merle's arrival and Glen's angry words. He's bent over the cot rooting blindly through a duffel in half-concealed rage when he senses a presence. Whirling with a curse quick on his tongue, he tamps it down when he sees that it's her.
A moment opens between them, but there's too much to say and no words to begin, so she utters the only thing she can and hopes that somehow he understands.
"Trust me. Trust us."
And then, she holds out her hand.
He'd brushed past the others once they'd fought their way back through the prison yard. Warned Hershel's hand off his shoulder with a violent shrug and averted his eyes from Beth's wide-eyed stare. He'd gone straight for the stairs and ignored all their questions while cringing away from Merle's mocking drawl. All he'd wanted was one damn minute, one second, one breath away from these people and the war erupting around him like some twisted game of schoolyard red rover.
But she'd followed him here and held out her hand. Looked at him like he was some sort of savior come back from the dead.
And now all he can focus on, all he can see, is how small and white and goddamn dangerous her palm looks stretched out there in the gray prison light.
She watches him from the doorway of the cell. He's half crouched before her with his eyes narrowed and shoulders hunched and he's staring at her hand like it's a viper coiled to strike. It takes all of her strength not to pull back her arm and protect him from this unintentional threat. Not to crack a weak joke and brush the moment aside. The fear in his eyes cuts deep in her heart.
She sensed it from the moment she saw him killing walkers outside the fence. A jolt ran through her then, a white-hot pain laced with something else like relief. He left and then he came back and she just can't do this dance again. They've backed themselves along a cliff, pushed closer and closer to the crumbling edge. Looking at him now, she wonders if they've finally run out of ground.
And so, she'd held out her hand.
He's not sure what's supposed to happen next. Surely there's something, some signal, some sign he's missed. But it's just Carol there before him with her hand outstretched, beckoning to him in this vacuum of a room. Merle's curses swirl with desperate threats. They're echoing through the halls and around them both but it's always the same when it pounds in his head.
He searches her face for some sort of clue, but her features are calm and patient until he reaches her eyes. She's pleading with him there, her gaze begging for an answer with words she can't speak. He realizes dully that there's blood in her hair.
It hurts, the way she's looking at him. Hopeful but wary, like she's half scared he'll vanish from in front of her eyes. It's familiar, that look, from a blurred broken mirror. All he wants is to wipe it away.
That look has him taking a step. Just one. One step toward her with his eyes fixed on that tiny white palm.
And ever so slowly, he watches his own hand reach out to meet hers.
She steadies herself at the edge of this cliff. Watches him join her on this rocky ledge.
There's a moment, the briefest instant when he makes contact with her skin and the shock of it all causes him to flinch. He fights it and flattens his palm to rest against hers. He can't take his eyes away from the sight.
His fingers graze the point on her wrist where thin blue veins propel her pulse. The back of his hand eclipses her skin. He imagines the blood rushing below.
Her fingers remain flat against his palm. She doesn't brush her thumb against the calluses of his hand. Doesn't lace thin fingers between his own. Just holds her ground and lets his hand hover right above hers. It's just the two of them, together and not, in whatever this is.
The way, he thinks, it always has been.
They're balanced here on this faltering ledge.
But the cliff is high and their time is short and she's scared to know that neither can fly.
They've touched before. He's steadied her hand when she passed too close to the fire and seized her wrist to warn for silence and danger ahead. He's gotten used to her hand finding his arm. But this is different. There's purpose and weight and it's so much more than what he deserves.
Time blurs to a stop. He's far too aware of the rings of grime under his nails and the brown-red stain of blood on the back of his hand. He's uncomfortably conscious of how close they are and how his chest seems to heave with every quick breath. She hasn't moved a muscle. Just stands there like some damn statue and watches as their hands rest flat against each other. She's got this look on her face like there's something here he's supposed to understand. Doubt slides up his spine in a painful crawl.
There's been a mistake, and all this is wrong. He never was any good at this.
The confusion has him ready to run. Ready to say the hell with her game or whatever this is and retreat to the woods or his perch or anywhere else that's not this claustrophobic cage.
But before he can withdraw, she shifts slightly, the friction of her skin on his sending rivers of ice straight up his arm. Her tiny palm twists, and her fingers curve gently. They wrap with a whisper weight around the side of his thumb.
She makes her last move, takes one final step. Backs off of this cliff and only hopes that he catches her fall.
She's holding his hand. It's light and it's warm and it's so very real. He could break free in a second from her delicate grasp, and he finds he's goddamn terrified to know that she'd let him. That Carol has pushed as far as she can and the next move is his, whatever he does. If he pulled away, she'd let him pass by and slide her hand away with that pleading look still locked in her eyes. If he chose, she'd let him walk out that door one final time and chalk it up to another cruel fate.
And suddenly, he's far more scared of letting go than he ever was of that perfect white palm.
He wills himself not to flinch. Steels himself against destroying whatever this fragile thing is between them.
He curls the tips of his fingers ever so slightly around her skin. Takes a leap of faith and tightens his grip. He exhales a breath from shallow in his chest. Inhales, and drags his gaze away from their fingers and up to her eyes.
That look is gone. That pleading look has disappeared, and a shadow of a smile crosses her lips. She lowers her eyes to study their hands. Waits, then nods her head so slightly that he wonders at first if it happened at all. Nods her head like he answered a question she never asked.
There's proof there, in the way he's standing so very still, like the slightest tremor would break this spell. There's proof there already, but she whispers the words one final time. "Trust me. Trust us." It's not a question when she says it this time.
It hits him then, what she's saying, what she's been asking him with all of this. It hits him there in the cold prison cell that this isn't a game or some kind of trick. That this isn't about the group or Merle or anything else but this moment and them. It's about his hand in hers and he won't be the one who pulls away.
"Okay," he breathes. Trust us. And when he holds his grip he knows that he does.
In the dimming light with his hand in hers, she thinks they can fly.