AN: I just want to say, Marol has been a shocking development for me. I'm Caryl through and through, but this pairing seems to be a guilty pleasure I never expected. Needless to say, last night absolutely devastated me and as a coping mechanism, I had to write some Merle. This is also an experiment—I have never written out of 3rd person before so I fear this is a bit of a mix of things. Anyway, I hope you'll give it a chance and let me know what you think.

My undying gratitude to Raizing-Kain for being a wonderful friend, braving the Marol and betaing for me. I think we caught as many of the hiccups as we could.

A Change In Plans

Her curiosity is piqued when she sees Rick visit Merle's cell. She knows he's distracted and she's sick of the looks he shares with Herschel, and now with Daryl. Something is going on and now that he's approached Merle, she knows it is something they would all likely regret. Merle is muscle. Merle is down for doing the dirty work. Merle is Daryl's brother and she isn't going to let him do anything else to cause Daryl pain or disappointment. Feeling like a spy—feeling god damned disloyal—Carol sneaks up the stairs, the most silent she's ever been in her entire life. As Rick steps inside Merle's cell, just enough to obscure his view of the outside, she sidles into the next cell and hides in the corner to listen.

Their conversation makes her feel sick. Michonne offered up as collateral to save all their lives—a woman who has protected Carl, who has helped them get back Maggie and Glenn, who has added something to their little group. The woman was sneaking into Carol's heart and she knows what Rick is planning is wrong—just as much as she knows Daryl will have agreed, if only because what Rick says is what now goes.

Merle knows the score. He outlines for Rick exactly why the Governor wants Michonne, and Carol has to remind herself not to cry out. She wants to. She wants to hit Rick for being so cruel, and she wants to hug Merle for being the realist because even as her anger builds toward Rick's bloody-minded desperation to keep them all alive, she knows this will change his mind. Just like she suspects he knows it as well. Why else would he come to Merle? Rick isn't a killer—despite taking out his best friend. For this, Rick will need someone else without morals, someone else who has something more to lose. Merle has told them many times over that he'll do anything for his brother, and now Carol believes it. Knows it in her heart and admires it because when Rick walks off, the burden of what he's done making his shoulders slump, Merle walks in the other direction and she can see the plans he's already making in his head.

Carol starts making her own. She dresses for combat—retiring the cardigan for a short jacket and loads her pockets with bullets. The box is still out from before so she makes sure she's got enough to fill every spare space she's wearing, and then she takes her gun and then finds another. Over her shoulder she swings an automatic rifle and she grabs some ammo for that as well. She straps a knife around her waist and finds a flick knife she stuffs into the pocket of her pants. She finds Beth, tells the girl to stay close to Judith, and then goes searching for Merle.

She finds him in a workshop, and the room seems strangely inviting. Warm. Not cold and dark like their cells. This place has known something more positive than where the inmates slept—it's known work, labour, and Carol finds that Merle seems to fit in. She looks at him as he scuttles around preparing for something he's not going to get the chance to do and sees a man that has lived a hard, cruel life and knows now that he's as worth saving as the rest of them. He thinks he's going to turn Michonne over to the Governor—hasn't realised yet that the same psychopath has a need to destroy him too. Hasn't worked out yet that if he does this, he won't be coming back. And if he doesn't come back, Carol doubts that Daryl will either. He's accepted them dying one by one, because although they are his family now, and Carol figures he loves them as much as they love him, it's not the same as blood. Like he's always told them, Merle is blood and he will choose blood over them in a heartbeat, and if Merle doesn't come back, Carol will lose any part of Daryl that she's convinced herself is hers.

He's shocked when he looks up and finds her standing in the doorway, watching him. Seems to realise it's too late to hide his bag of tricks from her as he's stashing wire into it.

"Didn't you say everythin' you had to say before? Told you I was with ya'll, didn' I?"

Carol stares him down and feels tears clogging her throat for finally seeing him the way Daryl does—as a man who will go to any lengths to protect his brother, to show him love the only way he knows how.

"I didn't believe you then and I don't believe you now, Merle," she tells him and takes small satisfaction in his flinch. Carol steps further into the room, takes his bag from him and puts it back on the bench. "We aren't taking Michonne to the Governor. It's wrong. You know it and I know it and you know Daryl sure as hell knows it."

His face hardens and just briefly Carol wonders if she's misjudged him completely and that he might resort to hitting her to get her out of his face, but when he rubs his one good hand over his face, the fear in her belly settles.

"Daryl's on board with this."

"Daryl will do whatever Rick decides, and you and I both know Rick is going to change his mind. I know this is why you're doing this now. Getting it done before Rick loses his conviction. You think you have to do the hard thing, that it's the only way out for all of us. But it's not." She believes this so strongly that her voice cracks and emotion spills out. "He will take Michonne, mutilate her just like you said he would, and then he'll come here for the rest of us. It'll be a piece of cake. Do you know why?"

He looks too stunned to speak, his mind not ticking over as fast as it usually does and Carol feels at once disappointed and sad.

"How did you plan to take Michonne to him and escape without him killin' you, too? Do you actually know what that would do to Daryl? And that…asshole…won't just kill you. He'll make sure you turn and it will be Daryl that will have to put you down. For someone who's always saying you know the Governor, you're bein' real blind about this. I can't let you do it. I can't let you put Daryl through that."

Carol sees tears in his eyes but he blinks them away fast, never giving in to that weakness that invades his insides whenever thoughts of Daryl hit him.

"Well what the fuck else am I supposed to do?" Merle stomps away from the bench and gets right up into her face, his bitter breath fanning across her mouth and instead of intimidating her like he hopes, it makes her all the more determined. Taking the rifle off her back, she thrusts it into his hands and gives him the extra rounds. He looks at her stupidly and then notices that her jacket is bulging and she's covered in weapons, the knife curving along her hip.

"What's this?"

"If we're aimin' to kill a man, we'll need the tools to do it." And then Carol smiles at him, strangely comfortable with the prospect of killing their enemy and whoever else might stand in their way. If Andrea can't do it to protect them all, then Carol can and will. She knows it won't be easy, that it's possibly an even bigger risk than Merle's original plan, but if anyone was going to take the chance it had to be her. Other than Daryl, she had no one left, and if Merle was going to risk his own life to save Daryl, she had to make sure he came back or risk losing Daryl forever.

"I ain't takin' you anywhere, doll."

She pulls her gun and aims it at his head, feeling little remorse as he takes a step back in shock.

"We aren't discussing this like rational people," she tells him and yet she feels completely rational. It was past time where Rick made all the hard decisions, where they depended on an unstable man for their lives. Rick needed a break, they needed the prison, and Daryl needed Merle. She wishes she could say someone needs her but it really doesn't matter at this point. She isn't suicidal, the time for that left not long after she saw Sophia for the last time, but she isn't going to sit back looking after a baby when all those that she cares about could be lost.

"You take Michonne to him and that's on you for the rest of your life. You're not so different from Daryl as you think you are—I know you don't want to do this. So, you abandon that plan and you adjust. I'm coming with you and together, we'll take out the Governor. Okay?"

She's shaking by the end of it and he can see how much by the way the gun wavers in her hand, but she can still see the second he decides to go with her. He nods once, slings the rifle over his shoulder and then hands her the bag, then with his one good hand he takes hers and they leave the prison walls behind.

They are silent as they walk, sneaking past the others and getting out a side fence that Merle has already prepared. He strings the cut fence back together then takes her hand again, and Carol finds that she's not as repulsed as she once thought she might be. His hand curls around hers and she sees that they are really in this together, planning to murder a human being before he can murder the lot of them. This thought might once have made her feel sick to her stomach, but now she was forging a bond with Merle that Carol had never thought she could.

"We'll hafta walk until I can find us a car."

She squeezes his hand in reply, replacing her gun in the waistband of her pants and unsheathing the knife instead. The knife attachment to his stump is dull, no light glinting off it in the sun, but she figures that's a good thing while acknowledging there is a certain symmetry to them now.

When he finds the old Ford LTD she almost laughs at the car alarm that screeches while he's under the steering wheel hotwiring the thing, surprised that anyone is so concerned about such a shit car getting stolen, but then the walkers come and she panics.

"Merle?" She's already killing walkers before he gets out of the car and she's scared as one stumbles into the doorway before he's even sitting up. They are coming from everywhere, summonsed by the alarm and a tasty meal, but at last Merle is there, formidable as ever, and grabbing her arm to shove her inside the car. Carol's heart is thumping and she tries to swallow it down as Merle revs the now blessedly quiet car and takes them somewhere that isn't crawling with walkers, somewhere where she can reinforce some of the control and strength she'd had earlier. She had no time to lose it now—this first time she's been outside the prison since they'd found it.

Merle leaves her sitting in the car when he runs into a bar, and she stupidly doesn't realise what he's doing until he's back with the bottle of whisky already at his lips. She angrily grabs it from him, throwing it to the floor and not giving a shit how the precious commodity leaks out onto the floorboard.

"You don't get to do this now," she shouts, her small fist impacting his chest. "You need to think. You need a clear head."

"I need some fuckin' release, Lady," he counters back, his own anger building but he doesn't go for the bottle still half full on the floor. Instead he grabs the back of her head and slams his lips onto hers.

Carol isn't as shocked as she thinks she should be, and in seconds she's mashing her lips against his in a kiss so furious it should be rewarded with blood. Instead, her head is swirling and sensation knocks any rational thought right out of her head. Merle is shifting along the seat, lifting her until she's straddling his lap and feeling how well he's responding to her open mouthed kisses, to her tongue desperately seeking his. Her body explodes with long dead memories of passion, so when she feels his fingers fumbling with the zipper on her pants, she shuffles up and helps him, tearing herself away from his mouth just long enough to kick off one boot and slide her pants down one leg and then settling back on top of him. He's taken the opportunity to release his dick and as she turns back to recapture his lips, he slams into her, spreading her so wide she thinks only of screaming and bucking against him so he'll slide out and do it again. The act isn't violent so much as brutally honest, but Carol has been used to violence for all of her married life and this is far from what she's known before.

His mouth falls to her throat and she wishes they could be fully naked, take some time, but this is all they have for right now and as he moves within her, burning away the remnant memories of Ed that have stayed with her this past year, he replaces them with something she considers might be manageable. It might even be hope. She squeezes her muscles around him and takes some feminine satisfaction at his groan of torment. She needs to feel more, wants to touch him and taste him and reassure herself this man really is more than she's given him credit for in the last week. Her hands wander until she's managed to worm them under his shirt and immediately she feels the welts on his back, the same as Daryl's. She says nothing, but her fingertips trace over them one by one as the mad bucking of her hips slows down to something more tender.

He's panting against her neck now and Carol feels something blossoming in her belly. This isn't just sex, she knows, they are sealing a pact and she doesn't regret it in the slightest. Doesn't regret the orgasm that starts low and builds until it rips through her, forcing her to seek his lips again as he releases himself into her. The aftershocks slowly fade and Carol raises her head to look him dead in the eye, refusing to hide like she might have done once. His hand is rubbing the flesh at her hip almost tenderly, but then he speaks and it's almost back to business, except this time the anger toward each other has dimmed and Carol hasn't let him escape yet from her body.

He tells her his plan, and there are parts of it that terrify her, but she admits it's a good one as his hand pinches her clit then zips straight up under her shirt and cups a breast. They have time for one more hard, fast release and she's reeling from his ability to be that excited again so fast, but once it's over Carol pulls away, looking around the inside of the car and in the glove compartment for something to wipe away the wetness from between her legs. She finds a small, disposable pack of tissues and laughs, wipes herself and tosses the tissues covered in Merle's semen into the back seat.

When she looks at him now he's smiling and that angry acceptance he's worn on his face since Daryl brought him home seems like a distant memory. They catalogue their weapons, run through the plan once more, and then she's sitting back in her seat, counting slowly to one hundred as he roars the car back to life and cranks up the volume of the tape deck. It's so loud she can hardly think, but within minutes the car is surrounded by walkers.

"You sure about this?" he asks, looking at her now with concern and Carol wonders how one intimate act can possibly change his view of her.

She nods. She's started this to save her family, to protect Daryl at all costs, but now she thinks it might be okay to be doing it for Merle, too. Walkers bump into the car, slam against the windows and Merle drives forward a little bit, waiting for the dead to catch up before moving forward again, and again, and again. It's a slow process and the closer they get to where the Governor and his men lay in wait for Rick to show with Michonne, the more sick with dread Carol feels. Her hand falls to Merle's leg and squeezes and she turns her gaze on him with eyes burning with determination. She will not let them fail today—she will not let Merle die and leave her at the mercy of this sick man.

"You don't get to die in there," she tells him fiercely, and he recognises that it's an order. "I mean it. You let him kill you and then they get me, too. You think of Daryl first and only, and you kill that son of a bitch. Daryl won't cope with both of us dead, so you do whatever you have to do, but you don't die."

He grins at her, his eyes roaming over her body with a burning hunger that sets Carol's nerves alight. "Admit it. One ride on ol' Merle just wasn' enough for ya."

Carol rolls her eyes, but grins anyway. "You losin' your mind, Merle? I already rode you twice—and I don't recall you usin' any contraception, so if you go dyin' in there and leave me with a baby, so help me I'll string you up and skin you myself."

She felt evil about planting that little seed, but the realisation of it and his sudden fear was almost comical.

"Well, now," he says, seemingly stumbling around for the right words, and as he gulps hard and blue eyes clash with blue, he suddenly grins with a mouthful of truly amazing teeth. "A little Dixon. Yeah, that might be somethin' worth livin' for."

They arrive too quickly and Carol feels terrified that she's not really ready to do this, but before she can change her mind, Merle has opened the door and tossed her out of the car, following after and then dragging her covertly to the buildings. The walkers have missed their exit and have followed the car, music blaring until it rolls into the open and the Governor's men walk toward it with curiosity.

"You watch this window. I'm over here, but keep your eye on the door."

She's about to turn and take aim, though the window he's given her will warn more of walkers than the men now dealing with the dead, but it's a good position in case anyone works out Merle is shooting them down from behind. He curses after a shot misses and before he can line it up again, two men throw the door open and attempt to reach him. Carol recognises one of the men from Tyrese's group and shoots, barely noticing him fall to the ground as she aims at the other one and takes him out before he can even raise his gun to her, but it's too late. The Governor has followed them in, not noticing her with the rage he's consumed with but Carol knows immediately that he's a fool for thinking that will be enough. She has enough blind hatred for this man and all he's done to them to make the whole world explode. Even then, Carol almost slows to vomit as the maniac bites Merle's fingers off, but just as it looks like he's about to give in, her sense returns and she unsheathes her knife and slams it into the side of the Governor's throat. His mouth gapes open and Carol sees the patch across his eye—the one Michonne had cruelly taken with a shard of glass—and she knows one stab in the neck won't be enough. She whips out her gun even as the Governor raises his to aim at her, but while he registers that some little grey-haired lady just stuck her knife into him, Merle raises his rifle and blows the Governor's face clean away. His blood and brains splatter all over her and Carol fights back hysterical screams as she remembers Axel's life spraying across her face, but then Merle has his arms around her, wiping away as much as he can with blood pouring from his hand and while tearing the eye patch from the bloodied remains of the Governor's face.

"Come on, Carol. Keep your shit together till we get out of here."

She's clinging to him, gasping into his chest to try and right the storm of emotions that are flooding her senses, knowing she has to tamp it all down if they are going to make it out alive. The Governor might be dead but his men don't know it yet. And Merle has never said her name before. She's sure of it.

He leads her out of there, circling the posse that are still dealing with walkers until he comes to the vehicles the Governor used to drive his army into this place. Merle shoves her into an SUV and before anyone notices, they're gone, leaving the mess behind. Merle tosses her the eye patch, covered in matted hair and brain matter and she urgently opens the window and vomits down the side of it. When her stomach is empty, she sits back and takes some deep breaths to calm her nerves.

The laughter comes from Merle first, and then Carol joins in, merriment dancing in her eyes until her eyes fall to his mutilated hand and she dies a little inside.

"Merle, pull over."

He is pale and three fingers are barely hanging onto the wheel and Carol fights the urge to vomit again. He does what he's told, though, and she shares a pained smile with him relieved that he's learning. She has nothing she can dress his hand with, and she tries to think, frantically looking around for something. She can't see anything at all except the blood dripping down his hand into his lap as the car stands in neutral and the tears flood her eyes. First his hand and now his fingers and she bets Rick won't feel sympathy for any of it. Won't respect what Merle has done.

Okay, she's got this, she thinks, shedding her jacket and then ripping her top over her head. Dressed only in a threadbare bra, she winds the top around his hand and vaguely wonders if his blood will ever come out of it. Quickly jamming her arms back into the sleeves of her jacket, Carol does the front fastening up enough so that no one at the prison will cop an eyeful then she gently tugs on his arm, getting him to slide over before jumping into the driver's seat and taking them home.

"You're a fuckin' animal," he tells her, his face splitting with a grin and Carol decides to take it as a compliment, especially as she sees the fear he's trying to hide. He's already been weakened with only one hand, but now he is down to three fingers and that has to be haunting him with visions of his continuing chances in this world where weakness could get you killed.

She glances to the side and sees him looking at her with eyes full of admiration, and she rests her hand gently to the side of his face before turning back to the road, eager now to just get home and have Herschel see to his hand. "You just released the tiger in me, is all."