A/N: Many thanks to K_Lynne317 for being my wonderful beta. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: TWD is owned by AMC and Robert Kirkman, not me. I'm not making any money from the posting of this story.
A Wake Up Call
Carol was sitting in the prison, holding little Judith. The group had voted and decided that they would leave the prison. The Governor was posing a threat that they couldn't possibly compete with. It would be better to escape with their lives. Putting Judith in the crib, she let out a sigh.
Daryl and Merle weren't back yet.
Michonne had arrived three hours ago, explaining to them what had happened. Merle had let her go, but continued onward, saying he had something to do. Daryl had found her, but went after Merle.
Carol knew that Merle was a bit rough around the edges, and while she didn't fully trust him, she knew he was completely loyal to Daryl. He wouldn't have betrayed them.
Still, she was feeling worried. Shouldn't they have been back by now? What if something had happened to either of them? What if something had happened to Daryl?
Reaching up, she quickly wiped a tear away. It was no use for her to start crying over something like that. She had work to do. She had Judith to watch over.
While she and Daryl had never admitted to anything out loud, it was obvious they both cared about each other. At least Carol knew how she felt about Daryl.
He had been there for her when no one else was. While he was coarse and unforgiving at times, he was also gentle and caring. She saw a side of him that many others didn't get to see.
Daryl had protected her, saved her, and looked out for her on multiple occasions.
And she loved him.
After losing Sophia, Carol had thought she had lost it all. She had thought her life was no longer worth living. But Daryl had proved her wrong. He had showed her that yes, it was tragic, but it wasn't the end of her life.
Daryl had blamed himself for Sophia's death. He had spent so much time looking for her little girl, that when she was found dead, he cut himself off. He separated himself from the group. She didn't blame him, though, and she was sure to tell him that. He had tried his best, and she appreciated it. It showed how much he cared.
However, every moment she got emotional, Daryl would shy away. She didn't blame him, though, because that was how he was. He was quiet, usually keeping to himself. That had changed a bit, but since they had arrived at the prison, she hadn't really gotten a chance to let him know how she felt.
She was frightened because of everything that had happened with her ex-husband, but Daryl wasn't that man. He was a better one. One that she knew would never lay a hand on her the way Ed did. Daryl had helped her grow as a person - one that wasn't so shy and submissive.
Carol wasn't afraid to take control anymore, and it was all because of him. She was tougher now, not so easily deterred.
"Stop pacing, Carol, or else you'll wear a hole in the floor," Hershel said, coming over towards her.
"I'm worried," she admitted, looking the older man in the eye. Hershel was the clear-headed one of the group, always looking out for the welfare of everyone. He reminded her of Dale in a way.
She pushed those thoughts away before the tears could appear.
"The others are almost done packing up," Hershel said, giving her a sad look.
"I don't want to leave without them," Carol said firmly.
"You know I don't want to either, Carol, but if something had happened… well, we could be waiting for the Governor to just waltz right in. We need to think of the group as a whole."
She bit her lip, feeling the tears run down her face. He was right. They shouldn't wait for the Dixon brothers, just in case something did happen. They couldn't risk everyone else's lives in fear of leaving Daryl and Merle behind.
She started packing up their blankets, food, and other items. Carol knew there was no coming back.
Everyone stood by the cars, ready to go. Everyone but Carol that is.
Rick was pacing back and forth, unsure of what to do. He wanted to wait for Daryl, he owed it to him. Rick was like his brother... But time was being wasted, and every second was precious.
"Carol, I think-" he began.
She turned and faced him. "Just a few more minutes? Please, Rick." She gave him a pleading look.
He sighed, but nodded.
The group waited in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. No one wanted to leave one of their own behind.
"We've waited long enough," Michonne said. "I don't think they're coming back."
Carol nodded, knowing they couldn't wait any more. She'd have to accept it. This is how things were now.
Suddenly, a commotion occurred near the lower gates. Everyone rushed over to the fence, watching as Daryl appeared. He ran up towards the group, killing Walkers as he went.
When the group came into his sight, however, he slowed down.
Carol felt hope swell up in her chest, and she smiled. Daryl was all right.
But then one thought weighed her down…. Where was Merle?
Daryl came over, and without saying a word to anyone, he roughly pulled Carol into his arms, pressing his lips to hers.
Carol immediately wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close. She eagerly and hurriedly returned his kiss. He tasted salty, probably from the sweat of running. He gripped her tightly, almost too tight, as if he were afraid to let her go.
Pulling away, Carol looked up and saw that his eyes were red. He was crying.
"What happened?" Rick asked immediately, coming over.
Daryl stepped away from Carol, but still remained near her.
"I found Michonne, and she had told me Merle had gone ahead. I went to find him… to bring him back. I got to the barn, where we had met the Governor… it was a mess. There were walkers everywhere and a ton of the Governor's men dead. It was obvious there was some sort of battle. Walking around, I started to look for Merle."
"Did you find him?" Carl asked. He obviously didn't understand that Daryl returning alone could only mean one thing.
Daryl closed his eyes, before wiping his face with a rag.
"Yeah, I found him all right. Eating Ben's body."
A collective gasp was heard.
Daryl shook his head, willing himself not to cry.
"My guess was the Governor shot him right in the chest… wanted him to turn."
Carol moved and placed her hand on his arm. She just couldn't believe that Merle was gone. While the man had been a right pain in her ass, he had been with them since the beginning, in a way.
"It was…" Daryl shook his head. "I took care of the problem."
Everyone was silent. While no one liked Merle, no one wished for the fate he had received.
"I'm sorry," Glenn whispered, knowing that Daryl was probably still mad from their conversation earlier.
"Yeah, well, sorry ain't gonna bring him back," Daryl said harshly. Taking a moment to collect himself, he sighed. "If we're leaving, we better get moving. While Merle had died, he had taken down at least ten of the Governor's men, meaning he's probably pissed. I wouldn't be surprised if they were already on their way here."
Rick nodded. "All right everyone, let's go."
Carol turned to Daryl, "Can I ride with you?"
He nodded. "I'll go grab the bike." Daryl walked away, but she could tell he was hurting.
Merle was his brother, one of the only people he had really cared about. And now he was gone… Carol wasn't sure how he was going to take it. He came back with the bike, motioning for her to get on. She did, wrapping her arms around his body.
"I'm sorry about Merle," she whispered.
"It was horrifying. His eyes... Carol, it was just…" Turning, he faced her. "I can't lose you, too."
Carol's eyes widened. "Daryl, I'm ain't going anywhere," she told him firmly.
"It's just… I thought Merle was indestructible… and seeing him like that was just a huge wake up call. I don't know how much time either of us has left, but I know I want to spend it with you."
Leaning forward, Carol gave him a quick kiss. "We'll make it through this, together."
Daryl didn't say anything. Turning around, he motioned to Rick he was ready.
The group pulled out of the prison, driving down the road. None of them looked back.
They had all lost something or someone while they were here. But it was time to let those people go. A new chapter of their lives was starting.