Summary: Daryl returns to find that Axel is making himself far more acquainted with the group than he'd like. With the added task of looking after Merle, it's hard for him to make sense of what he might have come back to and why the sight even bothers him at all. Meanwhile, Carol is torn between Daryl's obvious discomfort with Axel and trying to be there for a man who had just lost his friend. Set during/after "The Suicide King". Predominantly follows the events as they were created in the show, but certain scenes or aspects may be changed or arranged in order for me to tell a better story.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Walking Dead. Do not own the characters. Just writing for pure amusement.
A/N: This is the first fan fiction I've attempted in at least 2 years, so please be gentle. All comments and critiques are appreciated. Hope you all like!
Torn in Two
Time at West Central Prison seemed to stand still without the constant threat of Walkers. They were fairly secure, locked away behind the cinderblock walls with several rows of barbed-wire fence to act as a barrier between their small, dwindling group and the flesh-eating threat that they'd been running from for over 8 months now.
Carol occupied the main common room, staring down at Judith, who rested in the make-shift crib sitting on top of the table. Her hands fluffed the white sheet she had put down as padding just before placing Judith in her new home. Unbeknownst to her, Axel leaned against the doorframe across the room, his arms folded over his chest, watching her.
"You musta been a good mamma," he drawled, his thick southern accent prominent in each word.
"Not good enough." The bitter words shocked even herself, and she looked up at the man apologetically, knowing there was no way he could know how much the thought of losing her daughter still stung. "I'm sorry. What I meant to say was thank you." She smiled weakly.
He nodded, pushing himself off the doorframe and began walking into the room. "I'm really sorry for all you've lost. You lot seem like a good bunch o' people. Even in this kind o' world, people like you shoulda been blessed with better luck."
"I'm sorry for your loss." Carol echoed. "Oscar was a good man."
"He tried to be." Axel agreed.
Carol remained quiet, returning her attention to Judith, who had begun gurgling and fidgeting in the tiny mail crate. She cooed at the small child, smoothing down the pink onesy that was beginning to show even the smallest evidence of dirt and grime. Axel took another step forward, moving to stand at her side, and peered over the crate to look at the child that smiled up at them.
"You missin' him?" He asked. Carol looked up at him questioningly, unsure of who he was talking about. "The redneck?" Axel clarified. "You missin' him?" He asked again.
It clicked then. "Daryl?" Axel nodded. "No." Carol lied.
"They keep talkin' about his brother like he was some kind o' monster." He motioned to the door he came from, referencing the group who gathered outside the prison walls. Since Rick's outburst the day before, rushing Tyreese and his group out in mere seconds, the others had kept to hovering over the man, all wanting to keep an eye on him as if to affirm that his sanity was still intact. Or to be there to help in the event that it wasn't. "You know him? Daryl's brother, I mean? "
Carol nodded. "I knew him. Not well. Merle was left on the rooftop shortly after we all grouped outside of Atlanta."
Axel winced. "Tough luck."
"He had it coming," Carol grumbled. "Men like Merle always do."
"For someone who didn't know the man all that well, ya seem mighty sure he was a bad guy."
Carol looked at Axel, realizing then that he knew nothing of her abusive past. In fact, he was the only member still living amongst their group that virtually knew nothing about her. And because of that, he was only member that didn't tend to treat her like breakable piece of porcelain. She studied him closely before blinking and looking a way. "I knew a man like him once," Carol admitted, wanting to leave it at that. "I knew him really well." She resisted the shudder that threatened to go through her at the mere thought of ever having let that man touch her. Let, she guessed, was a strong word.
Axel took the iciness in her eyes as cue to let the subject drop. "Beth seems to be taking it pretty hard. Daryl leavin'. I didn't know they were all that close."
She nodded, remembering her conversation with the girl the day before. "Daryl's an asset to the group. We all depend on him, whether we realize it or not. He's a strong man; a good man. Nothing like his brother."
A thick silence feel between them, and Axel shifted uncomfortably on his feet. The air had suddenly become impossibly tense, and he realized then that the woman had lied to him when she said she wasn't missing the man in question.
"He'll come back. I feel it." Axel tried to reassure the woman, breaking the awkward silence. Carol shifted then, leaning in to pick up the crate, preparing for her exit.
"Whether he does or not makes no difference to me," she said, the resentment she felt laced through her tone. "If you'll excuse me, Axel, I need to get this little one changed," she smiled. "It was a pleasure talking to you." Carol turned on her heel and brushed passed him.
Axel nodded his good-bye, turning as his eyes followed her retreating figure. "Always the lady." She heard him whisper after her.
In that instant, she wasn't quite sure if she should be flattered or repulsed.
The group gathered in the common room later that night with their new addition. Michonne, they called her. Carol wasn't quite sure what to make of the new member. She didn't talk much; didn't seem like she much cared to get to know any of them. But Rick had vouched for her, so she at least vowed to give her a chance. After hearing the recount of what happened in Woodbury, she couldn't imagine that Daryl was much fond of her ruthless ways.
The baby slept only a few feet away, in the cell that became Daryl's when he finally got tired of sleeping on the perch. The place was cozy, still riddled with most of his things. Carol had found it comforting when she placed Judith's crib on his mattress to rest. It was the perfect spot for her, dark enough to sleep peacefully and close enough to common room so that someone could always keep an eye on her, or grab her to make a quick retreat if need be.
Rick had warned them. This Governor was their new enemy.
After Carol had served everyone else, she took a seat next to Beth, who smiled up at her. "I think he's sweet on you." Her wide eyes, flickered to Axel, who stood across the room, closest to Daryl's cell, a bowl in his hands and casting glances their way every so often.
Carol laughed quietly and shook her head in amusement. "Maybe he is."
It didn't take a genius to decipher that much. He had been less than subtle in all of his advances toward her since finding out that, despite what he had originally thought, she wasn't a lesbian. She could tell pursuing a woman was something that felt completely foreign to him, and she almost pitied the man because of that. After all, he had been locked away for a long while. A man could obviously forget a lot in that time, like subtly.
"Wonder what Daryl would think."
Carol jolted then, the name unexpected in her ears. She looked down at the blonde who smiled up at her, knowingly. "Why would Daryl care?"
The girl shrugged. "You two seemed close is all."
"We were," Carol agreed. "We were friends."
"We all wondered, Carol." The girl admitted. "Seen how you two seemed to gravitate to each other. And when he found you in the tombs. He didn't try to let on that he was sufferin'. But there was this relief there when we were all standing in your cell after he brought you back. I'd seen it. Daddy did, too. Maggie said that on their run out to get baby formula, the day that we were attacked and the baby was born and you were – They talked about you then. She said he was taking it pretty hard."
Carol stifled the surprise in hearing that Daryl had been affected by the thought of her being dead. The truth was they never really got to talk much about it. He'd brought her back, saw that she was well enough to function before informing the others and then it was off to Woodbury they went.
"Daryl and I..." She paused. "We understand each other in a way no one else can. With our pasts beings so similar. I understand him going away with Merle. Like I told you earlier, I'd like to think I'm stronger now than to let myself get sucked back in by Ed. But if Daryl wasn't..."
Beth shook her head. "I think it's more than that," she whispered.
Carol fell silent, wondering if maybe she was right. It's not like she hadn't entertained the thought. She even suggested the option to him once, that night up on the bus. She'd played it off as a joke, so he laughed. There was nothing in his eyes after that had shown he'd contemplated, even for a second, the mock offer. But she had. Of course, no one else would ever know that.
"Now that we're all finished eating," Rick began and Carol took that as her cue to stand and start gathering bowls. "It's time for us to re-group. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of R&R. The Governor knows who we are now; knows where we are. And we need to prepare ourselves," Rick paused, briefly distracted by the noises Carol was making as she dropped the discarded bowls in the sink to wash later.
Rick side-stepped closer to her, his hand touching her arm softly while hanging the other lazily over his gun holstered at his waist. "Carol," he said, and she looked up at him expectantly. "Would you—" He motioned to her seat, and she took the hint.
"Oh, right." She smiled, embarrassed. "Of course. Sorry." She said, scurrying back to take her place next to Beth. He smiled at her and turned again to address the group.
"The loss of Daryl is a big blow." Carol felt herself wince, and Beth's hand went to rest over hers. "But we're still strong, and we can still overcome this Governor." He addressed the newcomer then. "Michonne has proven herself to be a powerful warrior, and she wants to help. I think it would be in our best interest to let her."
"Can we trust her, Rick?" Carol surprised herself by asking. Rick looked over at her, obviously just as shocked that she had spoken up. "Did Daryl trust her?"
"Daryl didn't know her." Carol nodded, letting the subject drop, knowing then that she had been right in her assumption of how Daryl would have perceived the girl. She didn't seem like a bad person. But Daryl always was weary of strangers.