A/N: this is an AU in which Shane did not die at the farm, but lived to continue on with the group - as fair warning, this is, at the heart of it, a Caryl story, but it explores a complex relationship dynamic that won't truly be understood until the end - I have decided to start posting the story now, even though I am nowhere close to finished - I'm going to see where the story takes me - based on what I have so far, this has the potential of being a rather long story, but I make no promises - honest feedback is always welcome and appreciated - my intention is to update weekly with a new chapter on Sundays

The Walking Dead and identifiable characters, places, and events are not mine - no infringement is intended or implied - my stories are written out of love and a need to create and are solely for entertainment purposes

Slanted light filled the cramped space. It came through the wooden slat walls that had shrunken over time, weathered without care and maintenance. Daybreak or later, hard to tell as she had just woke and did not have a time reference. She scanned her memory for why she was here and the reason was sudden and clear. A walker.

She had been looking for tools in the grounds maintenance shed. Set apart from the main property, it likely held treasures that had not been plundered from the house. It seemed that mansions were the first to be ransacked when things got crazy. Shane and Daryl had told her to stay put while they cleared the house room by room, but she had gotten bored and wanted to prove useful. They had brought her to help them gather supplies because she had a better sense than they did of what the group needed, but they were taking their time in the large house. She had her knife and the grounds seemed quite deserted. They would be best served if she collected what they needed from the shed she had spotted when they first entered the property while Shane and Daryl finished their sweep.

The early autumn day was warm and bright. Perhaps she should have told them where she was headed, but she didn't plan to be gone long, and she would leave the door to the shed open if they did come looking. Her feet crunched through the drying grass as she advanced toward the shed, aware of every sound and movement. There were no walkers out here. The stretch of lawn between the house and shed was wide and open, and there was considerable distance from the shed to the tree line.

As she approached the shed all she heard were crickets. The late afternoon sun hit the windows of the tool shed and diffused through the dirty panes. But she was sure there was still enough light to search inside. A small padlock secured the door, but she was able to break it with a swift blow from the butt of her knife. The door creaked on its hinges as she gave it two strong pulls. It had been well over a year since it had last been opened. It was full of useful items - axes, shovels, picks, rope, as well as two large tool boxes filled with a variety of repair tools. What would make the most sense would be to bring the truck across the field and fill it rather than carry the tools back to the house.

After her inspection she turned to walk back and she heard a snap. Faint and in the distance, but clear. The crickets had stopped as well. She froze where she was standing and crept back into the shed, pulling the door behind her. There was no inner latch, but there was a hook to which she fastened a length of the rope that she secured around the leg of the workbench, creating a tension brace.

Through the dirt crusted windows, the best she could see were shapes and shadows. She could make out one walker shuffling by, slowly and without purpose, and then she heard a moan and mewling. A child. She felt her stomach clench and she covered her mouth to stifle a cry. She would not go out, could not go out. A child following its mother through the afterlife. It was too much and it made fresh her pain, which had begun to fade in the last couple of months. She felt her back hit the wall opposite the bench and she slid down, softly, quietly, sinking into her grief. She closed her eyes.

The pain was sharp. It starred her eyes. It ate her from the inside. She relived every moment with her baby girl and while the sun sank low and the shed filled with darkness she continued to wrestle her sorrow. That which she had put off for so long, she now faced, in the quiet dark, alone.

She hadn't realized that she'd fallen asleep until she woke and there was light.

"Carol!...Carol!...Carol!" they were shouting for her. She heard a muffled "over here!" and the door began to violently shake. She reached over and pulled the knot on the rope to loosen it from the bench leg. Suddenly the door flew up with such force she could hear the wood at the hinges splinter.

"Carol, what the fuck woman?" Daryl rushed to her side, silently checking her for bites and scratches.

"I...there were walkers...a child...I..."

Daryl cut her off. "How come you couldn't stay put? Why'd ya come down here alone for?"

Shane appeared at the entrance. "Found her eh? What the hell Carol? We've been looking for you for 20 minutes."

She stared at him disbelieving. It had been hours, she was sure of it.

Shane came forward and rested on one knee in front of her. He turned his head and looked up at Daryl. "She hurt?"

"I'm right here, why don't you ask me?" Carol lowered her eyelids and let the irritation in her tone speak for her.

"'cause I get the impression you don't listen. Seriously. We weren't gone that long. Do you know how dangerous it is out here wandering alone with nothing but a knife and your...skills?"

Carol glared at him. "I was just trying to save us some time is all. She looked past Shane to Daryl who was now standing. "Did you see them? The walkers."

"Naw, there was nothin' out there when we came up. Nothin' came running when we were out hollerin' your name neither." He put a finger to the side of his head and pointed at his eye. "I think you might be seeing things in this heat." Daryl turned away and exited the shed.

Shane stood and offered Carol his hand. She muttered "sorry" and followed him out of the shed back to the house. They both were silent but walked flanking her on each side. Carol was the first one to broach the silence. "I thought we could maybe bring the truck down here and get the tools."

"Sure, Carol, whatever you want." Shane stared ahead and picked up his pace. Carol scampered to keep up with him but felt a hand on her left arm. She turned and saw Daryl shake his head at her. She slowed down and Shane stormed ahead.

"Let him go and burn it off, he'll be alright in a minute. He just doesn't like it when he's not in control of a situation. Don't do that again okay? We stay in groups for a reason." Daryl kept an easy pace beside her and they reached the house together. Shane was sitting on the steps glaring down the drive.

"We best get this circus back on the road before it gets dark. I'm going to go clear out the shed and I'll meet you both back here in a half hour." He looked directly at Daryl. "Don't let her out of your sight, we won't have another 20 minutes to dick around." Shane stormed off toward the truck and she watched as he yanked the ball cap from his head and tossed on the seat before climbing in.

"Don't let him bother you." Daryl watched him drive off and turned his attention to the house. At the door he swept to the side and let Carol enter. "Ladies first." He said and attempted a smile. Carol gave him a nod of thanks and did her best to return a smile though her mind was elsewhere.