Author's Note: It is completely foolish to start something new, but there was no getting this out of my head. The concept isn't anything too original, but hopefully the delivery will be intriguing, if nothing else. So, for now, I guess the important thing I need from you is feedback on whether I keep going or leave it alone. What do you think?
Somewhere Out There
It was dark outside the cell blocks. Dark and cold, and even though she knew Rick was up in the tower keeping watch, Carol still couldn't hold back that little shiver of fear from what might be hiding in the shadows. And even though the unpredictable, the unexpected almost always left her feeling terrified when the sun set, Carol had to get out and escape tonight. If she'd sat inside for just one minute longer, she had no doubts that she'd have started screaming.
She couldn't have explained what had started that building sense of panic, the one that had sent her on a dizzying run to get out of the confines of the prison, find somewhere that wasn't hemming her in within four cement walls and steel bars. All she knew, all she understood, was that staying inside, watching everyone slowly meander off to bed while there was a madman still at large outside the prison meant that she couldn't breathe.
She hadn't been on the outside for weeks. After a whole winter running from one horde of walkers to another, Carol had built up a mental resistance to inevitability. In here, she'd found hope, and now it was crushing the very life out of her. The air was different—the walkers might be outside those gates but freedom was out there as well. She felt thoroughly stupid for feeling like a convict, desperate for early release, but even out here, sitting on one of the metal bench seats as she stared into pitch black nothing, she knew it wasn't far enough. Knew it wasn't going to calm the erratic, panicked beat of her heart. She had to get out. She had to leave.
When Daryl found her she was hyperventilating, gasping for air as she slid from the seat and lounged against the cement floor.
"Christ, Carol. What the hell?"
She barely heard the crossbow clatter to the ground as he dropped to his knees, picking her up and cradling her body helplessly while she gasped for air, clawing at his arms and digging her head into his body, her own in agony as the burn from too little air had her twisting and writhing within his grip.
"Can't…can't…breathe," she stuttered helplessly and the pain in her chest exploded and she blacked out for a second, going deathly still as Daryl started shouting her name into her face and shaking her violently.
When she came to, the panic had waned with the rush of air into her lungs, but she was shaking, not like she was cold but like she was terrified. Daryl had her in his arms and he was striding back toward the prison door and suddenly she knew she couldn't go back in there, not yet, maybe not ever. How was being penned in when the Governor could sneak in, could strike at any time any safer than being outside and ready to run?
"No." Her voice cracked with dread and she started pulling on him and wriggling so violently that he had to let her go, and as soon as her feet hit the ground she was running, running away from that tomb that would see her buried as soon as she let it. She didn't realise she was so close to the fence. She slammed into it hard, falling back on her ass with the momentum, but it was enough to stun her, to still the need for flight and it gave Daryl a chance to crouch down next to her, his fingers curling around her skull and applying a small amount of pressure that soothed her faster than anything she'd ever known before.
"What's going on?" Low, husky tones caressed her heart as his fingers continued the pressure on her head, gentling until he was just stroking her hair, like keeping contact with a wounded animal.
"I need to get out of here," she whispered, the words feeling edgy, painful and raw as they left her throat. "I've been cooped up in here like a rat in a cage for weeks and I just don't feel like I can breathe anymore. I need to breathe, Daryl, an' I can't do it in there. Not tonight."
"Why's tonight so special?" There was no condemnation in his voice, and she'd be lying if she hadn't expected it. She was being stupid and she knew it, but it didn't stop the realisation surging up inside that if she took a step back into those cells, her whole being was going to shatter and they'd never put her back together. That he wasn't blaming her just reminded her who he was, a good man, the best man she'd ever known.
"It's not. It's just…every night I've been having this dream, and I can't sleep in that cell for another night. I can't close my eyes and see him again. I can't live through another night remembering what my life was like before all of this."
That seemed to take the wind out of his sails. Daryl dropped to the ground beside her, his thigh pressed against hers and she felt herself burn. If only this was enough to push those memories out.
"Ed? You been dreamin' about that sack of shit?"
She nodded helplessly, hot tears streaking down her cheeks. "It's stupid, I know it is. It's been so long, but I mentioned him to Beth while you…were gone…and now I can't get him out of my head. Between him and the Governor I feel like if I go back inside that prison I'm going to be buried alive." Anxiety was surging back to life inside her, tremors building rapidly so that when Carol almost threw herself into Daryl's lap, her strong fingers twisting into the fabric of his shirt, she was already shaking. "Please, Daryl. Take me out of here. Just for a night. Please?"
She'd never really asked him for anything before, certainly not anything that would actually benefit herself. If she wanted something—and she rarely did—she asked Glenn and Maggie. The only thing she'd ever requested from Daryl was that he stay safe, and quietly within her own head she begged him to always come back. She was glad she tacked that on silently, because something inside her broke the one time he didn't listen.
She expected him to push her out of his lap, to leave her cold and alone, but he wasn't done surprising her tonight, it seemed. Instead of pushing against her, he held her close, accepting that for now she needed him and that he had comfort to give.
"Carol, you know Rick won't allow it. It ain't safe out there after dark."
Her head dropped to his collarbone, her fists slowly opening against his shirt and her breaths were calculated and steady. Deep.
"Okay," she said and her voice was hoarse, haunted and she wondered if it had ripped through Daryl like a spear to the chest when she felt his muscles bunch against her face and hands and a shudder ripple through him. "Fine. I'll sleep out here tonight."
He hissed in annoyance, pushing himself to his feet and dragging her up with him. He still didn't push her away, and instead his hand curled hesitantly around her waist as he accepted the way she'd bound her body to his. She thought he was angry, that his patience with her was at an end, and she held him tighter because of it. She knew she was going to regret this later, when she'd had time to reflect on this crazy action of hers, when she'd had time to realise her little act of dependence would probably set them back about twenty paces. Make him run away from her further than he had when he'd left with Merle, but for now, she needed this, him, and in case she died tomorrow, she wasn't letting go until he forced her to.
He walked her back to the seat she'd been sitting on earlier, directed her so that her ass was back on it.
"Stay here while I go talk to Rick."
She could barely see him in the moonlight, just the outline of his body as he stood poised before her, seemingly about to turn but also unwilling to move. She didn't need to see his expression to know he was staring at her, the searing burn of his gaze doing nothing to settle the stirring emotions inside she felt incapable of controlling. Deciding to add another infringement to her long list, she seized the hand dangling at his side, squeezing it almost painfully. Another internal cheer that he didn't shake her grip loose, instead answering the pressure with some of his own. She was still shaking, her bottom lip wobbling as tears ran unfettered down her cheeks.
He let her go and then jogged toward the tower.
The night was so silent and yet her ears were ringing. Everything seemed so still, even the tower despite knowing two men existed inside of it. She just couldn't tamp down this panic inside her, this inherent knowledge that something wasn't right, that she needed to get away from this place. It wasn't that she was afraid they were about to be attacked—that if she left, her and Daryl, that they'd survive some horrible calamity. Some horrible death. That the others would be slaughtered, but at least not them. She wasn't worried for the rest of her people, but this urgent need to get out of this prison and into the wide open where she could breathe—even if that's where all those that could hurt them were hiding—took precedence.
She wondered how Daryl was going to respond to being alone with her out in the dark, out in the open with no Rick or Glenn to help him keep watch. How long he'd let them stay out there and what they'd do with their time while they were gone. She wasn't thinking that far, just knowing that whatever needed her attention out there, needed it now. She wasn't going to spend the night in her bunk, surrounded by Woodbury survivors, surrounded by her friends sleeping while she tried to live through her nightmares of an Ed come back to life, demanding she return to him and then his punishments for leaving him to die in the first place. It was all so foolish, and she was old enough now to know better than to submit to the fear of a nightmare, but it was impossible to shake off. Impossible to banish the sight of his face, surly and hateful as he looked at her like she was worthless. Every vile word and deed started to replay in her head, morphing into some faceless monster with an eye patch, and Carol was whimpering enough to give Judith a run for her money when Daryl came back. He swept past her and into the cell block, coming back ten minutes later with a pack, her knife and a gun.
He snagged her hand, gently tugging her upright and she swayed on her feet, emotional exhaustion and too many nights of little sleep kicking in. He didn't say a word as he led her to the Hyundai. She hesitated as he passed the bike and she could feel the shrug of his shoulders as it flowed through his body down to her hand.
"Wanna make sure walkers can't pull you off the bike if we get stuck. Safer in the car, 'specially if we can't find nowhere to hold up for the night."
If she hadn't been a little in love with Daryl Dixon before, his thoughtfulness for her safety clinched it for her then. More tears squeezed past her useless defences, her stomach feeling weak and hollow. She was wrung out, pressing him to take her out and do something completely foolish, putting them both in danger, and yet he was willingly doing it—doing whatever it took to make her feel safe and whole again.
Her every action now seemed impulse driven. They'd made that kind of progress, she figured, where showing him how she felt was easier than words now. He'd not pushed her away earlier, he'd initiated the touch of their hands now. Carol was suddenly buoyed up with more confidence than she'd ever had in regards to Daryl. She pressed the palm of her hand against his cheek, his whiskers scratching her flesh as her hand shook. "Thank you."
He nodded his reply, opening the door of the Hyundai for her, then closed it once she was in.