A/N It's now official…I have a sickness…a Walking Dead sickness where I just can't stop writing/thinking/dreaming about these characters. Thought I'd throw this one out there before the new episode, which will HOPEFULLY/FINALLY have some Carol storyline guts to it! This is meant as a oneshot, but sadly, I can still see more happening with it. Whether I will still have that inspiration after the new episode airing tonight, I can't say for sure…but here it is anyway. Rated M, at this stage, for language but who knows what else can happen?

At first when she'd heard the shot, she'd smiled. She figured Merle had finally stepped over the line, pissed off an increasingly bitter and frightening Glenn, and copped a bullet to the head. Then she imagined Daryl losing it like he had so long ago at the quarry, and felt ashamed of herself for taking pleasure in something that would surely cause pain to Daryl—if no one else. So before another shot could ring out—and she wasn't so surprised that it had only taken one to achieve Merle's silence, instead only wishing it had been so easy taking out the Governor—Carol ran back into the prison and slammed through the doors leading back to the group.

She wore Daryl's set of keys on her belt, having almost melted at his feet as he transferred the responsibility of keeping them safe over to her when he'd headed out with Rick and Herschel that morning. She unlocked the door that would give her entrance to their common room, and then deflated when she could see Beth, gun still in her hand, and a cowering yet irritated Merle. Who was still stubbornly alive and completely not shot.

She looked back and forth at her people, at her family, and her eyes hardened. Both Glen and Merle were already sporting bruises, but the blood that dribbled from Merle's lip seemed to fascinate her. Even without asking she knew that this blow up was long overdue, but she couldn't help still feeling disappointed that it had happened at all. Feeling disgusted with both men, Carol turned her eyes to the girl with the gun and asked her what happened.

"Merle was tryin' to leave," she answered simply with a shrug of her shoulders, and Carol cocked a brow, knowing it could be anything but.

"Merle? What's goin' on?" She looked at him shrewdly, trying to assess him and realised she'd been doing that every single time she'd been near him since Daryl had brought him back. She was still far from sure she'd made any progress in working out the puzzle that was him.

"I ain't sittin' here while my brother's out there with the Governor. That fucker is sure as shit plannin' on none of them walkin' away from that meetin' alive."

Her gaze clashed with his and Carol sucked in a deep breath. There was real feeling in those baby blues and she was shocked that she hadn't seen it before. Behind all his brash insults, his manipulative manner, he was a man that deeply loved his brother, and being that she felt the same, she couldn't fault his need to do something to make sure Daryl came back to the prison alive.

But she couldn't let him leave. Leaving could get Daryl killed as much as leaving him there could. They had no idea what was going on at the meeting point—whether it was a legitimate attempt to negotiate as Andrea had said, or if it was an ambush. But how was she going to get through to him, get him to understand that if they interfered, then Daryl's—and Rick's and Herschel's—blood would be on their hands if it all went wrong.

"Have you ever trusted Daryl?"

The question seemed to shock him deeply, and Merle rocked back on his heels, his lips pressing together in a hard, firm line while his eyes narrowed dangerously. She could see he wasn't going to answer and felt sad that maybe he'd never had the opportunity to be in Daryl's hands rather than Daryl always in his. She'd been kept safe all this long year by the younger brother and he'd done everything within his power to prove to her how good he was—how exceptional a man he was. She did more than trust Daryl with her life, she owed it to him.

"I do," she confided, irritated when her voice came out a little hoarse and the group immediately picked up on it, looking inquisitively at her. It wasn't anything they didn't already know, how very deeply she cared for the brusque redneck that saved her on so many levels every single day, but it was the first time she'd ever gave her feelings a voice to any of them. "I do, Merle, and it's killin' me to watch him leave this place every time he goes off to do somethin' dangerous."

Merle narrowed his eyes at her some more and took a step toward her, his body crowding her space.

"Then do somethin' the fuck about it. Come with me and we'll go get 'im back."


"What?" He reared back, disgusted in what he saw to be her weakness. Her fear. "You afraid or somethin'? All talk but unless Daryl's 'ere to kick your ass along, you're full of shit?" he snarled at her, furious to the point of his spittle splashing her in the face.

She refused to back down. She was not the cowering type anymore. Fighting for your life against the dead that wanted to consume your flesh could do that for a formerly abused wife, she'd found, and she wasn't handing over her control to another bully of a man, no matter how much she loved his brother.

"Afraid?" She took her own step forward, got right up into his face but instead of anger she surrendered herself to sincerity. "You bet your ass I'm afraid. We go into that situation with no information, no idea what is goin' on and one step wrong he could be dead." Carol snapped her fingers viciously in his face to make her point. "Just like that." A tear slithered from one eye and she brushed it harshly from her check, impatient for him to see her point and angry that tears had tumbled into it yet again. "Phillip Blake is hell bent on killin' us all, and you're right, he could do it one by one, with Rick and Daryl and Herschel being the first to go, but I don't think so. I don't think he wants Andrea to really know yet what a psycho he is. He still thinks she's gullible—and maybe she is. I don't know or care at this point, but I think right now, Daryl is the safest he's going to be. We go in there on the attack, that could all change in seconds."

Merle stepped back, eyeing her carefully. He couldn't fault her argument, already coming to the conclusion that his emotions were irrationally affecting his judgement. He had a ton of years to catch up on protecting Daryl, and this had looked like a damned good time to start, but the little woman had a valid point. He knew the Governor—and he knew his men. Daryl's first weapon was his crossbow—Menendez worked with guns. "Why you ain't callin' him Gov'ner like everyone else?"

Her blood ran cold with hatred. "He's just a man, Merle. He didn't earn the title, he took it with lies and false promises. I'm not respectin' a man that can kill innocents just for the sake of power. It's a mean world we're livin' in now. Don't you think it'd be better if we had men in charge worthy of respect?" She paused, knowing her words struck him and seeing his memories playing across his face as he remembered his own part in the Governor's force. "Like Rick? Like Daryl?"

He lowered his head in concession, withdrawing a little in his thoughts. "We aren't riskin' anyone's life today. I have to trust that Rick knows what he's doing, and Daryl will make sure of it." The room was quiet, everyone watching the interplay with awe. It wasn't the first time Carol had stepped up to offer support for their leader or even various members of the group, but it was the first time she'd expressed her true, heartfelt opinion to them at large of how she felt about Daryl.

The fight seemed to ease from Merle and his shoulders slumped, his body thudding against the wall. Crisis averted, thought Carol with satisfaction, and she even allowed a small part of her heart to be grateful that Merle lived to breathe another day. Daryl would be pleased, at least, and now that she knew without any shadow of doubt where Merle's loyalties lay, she was kind of relieved about it too.

"Glenn, I'm going to take Merle with me to the gate. We'll wait for the others to get back."

Glenn nodded, relieved at her suggestion and keen to get Merle away from under their noses. His sheer presence was hard enough to deal with, but when the man opened his mouth it took all their efforts not to aim a gun at his head.

"Great idea, Carol. One thing, though. If he tries anything, shoot him in the balls." Before Merle could attack him for the suggestion, Glenn ducked through the door and went about his preparations for battle.

Carol didn't even bother to try and hide her grin as she held her arm out to indicate to Merle that he should head out to the yard before her. He submitted without argument, his one good hand stuffed in his pants pocket. They made it to the fence and Carol sidled up to the gate, doing her best to see beyond the walkers up their long driveway. She wondered if she never broke her stare, if she never wavered from watching, that the car would suddenly appear on the road, dust torn up behind it as their men returned home, either broken or with news she was sure she didn't want to hear.

"You know, if you're plannin' to shoot me in the balls, you better aim low." Merle chuckled as he dug his shoulder into the fence and angled his body so he could take in her all in, nice and slow.

"Trust me, Merle. Your balls have never crossed my mind, low or otherwise." She didn't even look at him, couldn't as she waited and watched, a buzzing in her head telling her that surely they'd be back soon. How long did it take for an evil bastard to warn them that he'd be coming and that he planned to kill every last one of them?

"Well, now, I'm thinkin' that might actually be a real shame." There was a suggestion in his voice that surprised Carol. She wasn't sure that Merle had actually even looked at her since he'd been within the prison walls. She'd avoided him like the plague and when she'd not managed to get away from his presence in time, he'd acted like she wasn't even in the same space. Now all of a sudden he couldn't seem to take his eyes off her, and unlike that little thrill she'd had when Axel had called her a lady, Merle's lust-filled perusal just made her feel dirty.

"You know what happened to the last guy who tried to get fresh with me, Merle?"

She stared out the gate, stared as if her life depended on it.

"Well I know it weren't Daryl or he'd have got lucky. Boy's never been lucky in 'is whole sorry life," Merle drawled as he leered and stared at her ass.

"Let me guess, Merle. You're the one always gettin' lucky?" Carol clucked with disbelief, refusing to look at him. "He got shot in the head. That's what you'll get for takin' any interest in me, so take a hint and go find somethin' else to do."

"Oh come on," he said in a growl and Carol felt it grate right up the length of her spine. "A little Merle lovin' could be just what the doctor ordered. We might only have days to live, sweet thang. How 'bout you an' I take a little time out and enjoy some of the sins of the flesh?"

When Carol looked up, her eyes wide and incredulous, she released a harsh breath at how close he'd moved to her.

"Are you kidding me?"

"Completely serious, sugar. You've had your chance with Daryl for a year now. Boy's not in'erested. Me…I am. Hop on and let's give it a twirl." He eyed her up and down, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth and Carol—if she'd been in any other place in any other time—might have felt a thrill at having Merle's interest. And he wasn't entirely wrong. Every attempt at flirtation with Daryl had gone down about as fast as the Titanic. The thought of bumping uglies with Merle made her feel sick to her stomach. She really hoped he was just teasing.

Before she could say anything—shoot him down or offer herself on a silver platter—the sound of a car speeding toward the prison gate distracted her and she heaved a tremendous sigh of relief while hauling the gate open.

"Looks like we didn't need to go on a rescue mission after all," she said, her eyes peeled for signs of Daryl as soon as he stepped out of the car, swinging his new crossbow immediately to his back. Herschel hobbled out next, leaving Rick to slowly alight from the car, his face twisted with news she already knew they didn't want to hear.

"Meeting inside in ten minutes," he told them, his voice rough and worn from emotional exhaustion. Herschel followed him inside, leaving Carol alone with both Dixon brothers and making her feel rather nervous. One she wanted so badly she could taste it, the other already leaving a bad taste in her mouth even though she'd never touched him.

Daryl stood in front of her, looking scruffy and tired, and Carol could do nothing more but smile. Spending any kind of time with him felt like a blessing these days, especially since he came back with Merle. He'd been keeping his distance. She didn't understand why, though maybe he'd felt guilty for leaving in the first place, despite the peace he'd seemed to make with Rick, but with her he stayed as far from her as he could usually get and it hurt.

He looked between her and Merle and frowned. "What's Merle doin' out here without a gun?" He was asking her, like she had any control over what Merle did and didn't do, only this time she supposed she had being partway instrumental in making sure he didn't get a bullet in the brain.

"Was just tellin' the little lady how much she'd enjoy a ride on ol' Merle before the world goes to shit for the second time."

Daryl's eyes almost bugged out of his head and he took a step back from them both, glance darting between his brother and Carol like he was caught in the middle of something he couldn't understand.

"The fuck?" Daryl looked a bit green and Carol felt a flutter in her chest. If he'd walked away with a careless nod at them both, her heart would have been shattered completely, but his reaction gave her hope. Having no words to tell him that Merle was making a play for her because Daryl himself wasn't, Carol shot Merle a dirty look and made tracks after Rick. If they were all about to die she may as well know about it. Wasn't sure how she could prepare for dying, but she might as well hear if Rick had a plan. Might as well see if Daryl got a clue and saw the value in sharing their last days together. If not, maybe in honour of her beloved vibrator she should give closer thought to Merle's proposal. If she was going to die, she may as well go out with a bang. She started laughing before she was completely out of earshot of the boys. The world really was coming to an end if she was considering hanky panky with Merle.