AN: While I've written some well received fanfic in the Buffy fandom, this is my first crack at TWD. Love the show and will do my best to honour the characters and their voices. No beta at the moment, so all suggestions and recommendations are welcome! Am also working on a longer piece so we will see how this goes.
I'm going to beg for reviews cause let's face it: feed the ego, feed the muse :)
Disclaimer - I don't own any of the WD characters and make no cash doing this. All in fun!
She came too in stages, surrounded by the darkness of the dank cell. She didn't know what had woken her. Was it the silence? Or was it the steady dripping of water she heard off to her left?
Either way, she came too in bits and pieces. A flash of pain in the right ankle from when she'd twisted it, stumbling over some rubble as she ran. There was a burning sensation in the palms of her hands from scraping them against the rough stone walls as she'd wandered through the maze of dark hallways. Her knees ached from when she'd tripped and fallen to the floor. And finally, the large cut on her forehead stung and itched; she must have cut it when she smashed into the door in her blind, mindless flight. Her eyes fluttered open and she saw nothing but the faint outline of her hand as she reached up and gingerly touched her forehead. The wound had scabbed over; that, along with the hollow feeling in her stomach and the dryness at the back of her throat, told her that she'd been out cold for a while. Not just minutes, but hours, possibly days.
She drew in a shallow, ragged breath, trying to ignore the aches and pains, the hunger, and the thirst, but there was no way she could ignore the fear. She had no clue where she was. She'd lost all sense of direction as she'd run deeper and deeper into the prison. She could just imagine what Daryl would say if he could see her now. "How'd you go and let it happen? Couldn't you just pay attention to where you were goin'?"
She snorted and leaned her head against the stone wall. He wouldn't be impressed with the fact that she hadn't paid attention. She'd run, and punched, and stabbed; all in a mindless rush with the walkers pushing in from all sides. When she'd smashed into the door, it had bounced back into her face and she'd reacted: she'd thrown it open. She hadn't even checked to see what was behind it even though she lived in a world where what could have been behind that door could easily have been worse than what was behind her. But instincts had prevailed and she'd fallen into the room, slamming the door behind her, and collapsing. Luckily for her, the room was empty.
"Damn straight," Daryl snorted. "Lucky as fuck."
"Shut up," she said to the voice in her head, but her slight smile took the sting out of the words. Carol was glad that in this, her last hours, she would have his presence to keep her company, even if it was only in spirit.
It was quiet now outside in the hallway. The herd of stumbling, groaning biters had passed by her hiding place and made their way to another part of the prison. She strained to hear the telltale shuffle and groaning that gave them away. As deadly as they were, the walkers were slow and awkward. One on one, they were easily dispatched but this was a case where numbers counted and in a group they were a force to be reckoned with. They seemed to have left, and slowly Carol dragged herself across the floor and pushed against the door. It bumped against something large and heavy. In the small shaft of light that filtered through, she could see that she was in an empty utility closet. The stench slipping through the gap made it clear that there was at least one, and possibly more, dead walkers piled up against the door.
She leaned up against the door and pushed, but it only bumped up again against the pile of bodies and she collapsed against the wall as the severity of the situation hit her. She might not get done in by a live walker, but by a dead one.
"Merle would say you were outta the fry pan and into the fire," Daryl pointed out.
Carol shook her head, wishing he'd kept his brother out of it. But even here, slipping in and out of consciousness, she was going to have to deal with Daryl and his brother. Now that was one person she was glad she'd never have to see again. Merle had always reminded her too much of her husband Ed. At first she'd thought Daryl was from the same Dixon cloth. But outside of his brother's shadow, he'd grown into himself and proven time and time again that while they shared blood, Daryl was a man of honour.
She licked her parched lips and pushed weakly against the door. Once again, it thumped up against the dead weight of the walker and thudded shut. She closed her eyes as she felt the exhaustion drag her down into the darkness. She fought the pull, focusing instead on the dripping water. Its incessant drip, drip, drip matched the rhythm of her heart; a reminder that she was still alive. After everything that had happened, she had survived. She'd survived the savage beatings and relentless mental abuse from her husband Ed. She was surviving in a world overrun by biters. Death and destruction surrounded her, but she was surviving. Without TV and running water, without hospitals and shopping malls, she was surviving.
She'd lost Sophia.
Carol gasped and fought the tears that threatened. Her baby girl, gone; that monster shuffling out of the barn, reaching out in hunger.
'Not my daughter, not my daughter, not my daughter.' That was the litany that Carol had told herself since that awful day. That thing hadn't been her little girl. Sophia had died long before that monster had stumbled from the barn. In her mind, Sophia had simply gone to sleep in the woods and not woken up. Perhaps a blanket of Cherokee roses like the one Daryl had shown her grew over her body, marking her place.
"I told you," his voice echoed. "There's a flower blooming for your little girl."
Tears slipped down Carol's cheeks.
"Yeah," she whispered out loud. "I survived losing my baby just like those Cherokee mothers." And if Daryl's story was to be believed, Carol had cried enough to ensure those Cherokee roses bloomed all along her own personal trail of tears.
"Then why you lettin' a dead biter kill you now?"
She pushed at the door again, a bit harder this time. Same result: it opened, bounced off the walker, and thudded shut.
"No," she moaned.
She was going to die here. In the dark, starved and beaten; she was going to die just like she'd once imagined she would at the hands of her husband. Only it wasn't Ed who'd killed her in this scenario.
The worst part of the situation was that after she died she would turn. And then, as a mindless, hungering monster, she would starve and waste away a second time. Would she feel it? As the fever raged and burned through her body, would she be conscious of something inside her shifting and turning into something else? Carol remembered the image the doctor had shown them at the CDC. How the lights, signifying light and consciousness in the subject, had slowly gone out, one after the other, like a rolling blackout, until there was no light and no life left. Then, after a moment of darkness, some of them had turned back on, dim and lifeless. In that split second, between life and the reawakening, would she know? Would she feel anything?
"Why you thinking shit like that?" Daryl muttered. "Ain't no good headin' down that road."
He was right. Better she not think of Sophia.
There were so many others she could remember. Shane and Dale. T-Dog.
The look on T-Dog's face when she'd last seen him was one Carol would never forget. His eyes wide with terror, his mouth, a rictus of rage and agony, and then he'd yelled for her to run, to save herself. And she had. She'd run; leaving him there, food for biters, to save herself.
And here she was, dying anyway.
"Sucks that had to happen. T-dog was a good shot."
She nodded in the darkness.
Daryl wasn't going to appreciate the loss when it was discovered, but he would have respected the sacrifice. He was an honourable man and she had no doubt he'd have done the same thing – he'd have thrown himself into the crowd of biters to save her. She'd seen how he'd done everything he could to find Sophia. Carol had seen the changes in him. The longer away from Merle, the surer Daryl's own footing had become. The walls he'd put up to shield himself from the world had slowly come down and he'd begun to connect with each member of their group in big and small ways. And there was no denying that there was a bond between him and Carol that had started when Ed died and had only grown stronger after Sophia had gone missing. Between them was a silken thread, blind to the eye but as strong as fishing line, and it bound them together. Lost and hurt, they had been collateral damage in the real world, victims of bullies and abusers. Her granny used to say that you get stronger in the broken places and in this case, it was true. Where the old world had broken them, they had grown stronger, and in this damaged world they had found meaning and value. Carol knew it and she knew Daryl did too. He didn't have to say it – she saw it in his eyes when their gazes met and she felt it in the slight touch of his hand on her shoulder or the small of her back. He gave her strength and she hoped that in some way, she returned the favour.
He'd be pissed off if he could see her now, though. Giving up mere inches from salvation and weighed down by a walker.
"Fuck yeah, just push it outta the way, will ya?"
"Daryl," she murmured.
The only reply was the steady drip of water.
She was so thirsty. Maybe if she found the source of the water she could drink some. Maybe then she'd have the strength to push the body out of the way.
The metallic clang of steel against stone joined the steady drip of the water.
Carol pushed against the door again and again. The thud of the door matched the tapping of steel against stone and the drip of the water – a song and a statement.
She had to get out.
T-Dog's death couldn't be a waste. She had to get to Daryl, she had to tell him….
She pushed and pushed and pushed against the door.
'Daryl', she thought.
The tapping stopped and there was a harsh exhale and the clatter of metal against stone. Carol froze for a moment in terror.
Something slammed against the door, and Carol cringed feebly against the wall. Whatever was out there, she didn't have the strength to fight it.
There was a scuffle as the body was rolled away and then the door was wrenched open. Soft light filtered through and Carol looked up, squinting at the figure hunched over her. A halo of light backlit him and for second her heart stopped – it was over - and she was enough of a believer to feel a moment of gratitude and reverence. This was it.
"Hold on," Daryl murmured. He turned her face gently towards his, and she stared up at him in silent gratitude. "I've got you." He leaned down and scooped her into his arms, holding her high against his chest. Carol wrapped her arms loosely around his neck. She closed her eyes as he hurried through the labyrinthine halls of the prison. "Damn it, woman. I'm gonna kill you," he muttered.
Carol smiled weakly and pressed her cheek against his. "No you won't," she whispered.
He snorted. "Don't tell me what I can or can't do."
She looked at him. The skin pulled tight over his bones, making him look gaunt and harsh. But his blue eyes, when he glanced down at her, were burning.
"You're a good man, Daryl Dixon," she murmured.
He faltered, tripping and catching himself.
"Shut up," he muttered.
Carol smiled and entwined her fingers into the sweaty strands of hair at the back of his neck. Her eyes drifted shut. She was doing as she'd been told; she was holding on and she wasn't letting go.