AN…Phew, so lots of people off with the holiday spirit, huh? I'm not really sure how long this fic will go for, maybe another 5 chapters? I don't have a lot of skill with planning, so it's very much an estimate.

Guest: I can't kill my fave characters. Even if I thought it would make the story better, I just can't do it. I have NO idea if I can torture them, though ;)

Chilli: I am extremely flattered, thank you! I hope you aren't disappointed with my other fics when you get to them! When I started this fic I wanted a road trip…that was pretty much it. I just wanted to get them out of the prison, but the Governor idea had been floating around as another fic I wanted to do, so voila! Combo! And just so you know, your English does NOT suck. I thought it was pretty good ;)

Now…on with it, I guess. Review?

Chapter Six

"Fuck," Daryl hissed. "We just walked ourselves right into the middle of the Seven Circles of Hell."

"Or the set of a Hollywood movie," Carol suggested though the shock in her voice was so strong he didn't think they could have even convinced Axel of that one, as dumb as shit as that boy had been.

The darkness had been so deep and thick that it had sunk into their skin. Leaving the hatch open had barely allowed any shards of sunlight to filter down into the pit and Daryl heaved a great sigh of impatience as he toed his way through, striking a lonely match from the box in his pocket and shielding it in his palm while he frantically searched for some form of light. The shadows were long and sinister and the damp air and eerie cry of silence made his skin crawl.

Carol bumped into something behind him and he winced at the clang of metal as it hit hard dirt. He spun and aimed the dying match in that direction and found a kerosene lantern sagging on its side at Carol's feet. She picked it up and he wasted no time in lighting it, the last flickering flames gratefully catching the wick and throwing stark beams around them.

It was as if their flesh had been the initial spark, not enough to tempt much more than the first moments of animation, but as soon as the soft glow spread into the crevices of the pit, the growling, remorseless hunger of a walker corrupted the silence. Daryl swung his crossbow at the threat without thinking, the arrow cutting the air sure and true as it lodged deep into the reanimated dead's brain. Only when they both heaved a relieved sigh did they notice how it had been chained to the wall by its neck and both arms, another chain attached to its feet, and Daryl realised they were now standing right in the middle of some poor soul's tomb.

"Oh God, that poor girl." Without even looking Daryl knew Carol was swimming in tears. Her arms encircled his waist, like she was accustomed to seeking comfort in that way, and he naturally curled his arm around her shoulders and hauled her in close.

"I fuckin' hate when I'm right."

The walker was small, showing what looked to be a girl barely younger than Beth but with long black hair sagging from the scalp in patches. There was no telling her original eye colour, but by the distinctly Asian look of her, they had no doubt they'd been brown. She wore a simple, demure lilac dress, hiked up around her waist, panties absent and, as cut marks in the flesh of her thighs became obvious as Daryl moved closer to the corpse, Carol choked and then launched herself away from him, fell hard to her knees and vomited.

While she was distracted, Daryl swept the light around the small cavern and felt his gut drop when a darker shadow revealed a hallway to a bunch of other rooms. His gorge rose but he fought hard to hold it down, wondering if they were about to find the sick fuck responsible for this girl's last tortured hours in this world or if they were long gone. He didn't want to contemplate what might be behind those doors, but as he shone the lantern down the hallway and didn't see an end, he grasped onto a hope that maybe it was a tunnel that led out of there. Daryl didn't know if it was smart to lead Carol through a passage that could end up in the middle of a walker nest, but with the Governor out for their blood topside and the night fast descending, he figured they might be shit out of luck. His senses were buzzing, but he didn't sense imminent danger at this point. A gnawing sense of uncertainty, sure, but he'd lived with that for most of the days of his life.

Carol was whimpering so he decided to go with the corridor. Going back to the entry, he pulled down the hatch and hoped it would remain camouflaged enough that the Governor would miss it—unless he tripped over the handle like Daryl had.

"Can you hang onto the lamp?" Daryl asked, already swinging his crossbow down so he could pull back the string and reload it, prepared for any eventuality that required a swift death.

Carol sniffled, wiped at her face with her hand and then took the lantern, holding it aloft so he could see the path as they started walking slowly along it. The rooms off the corridor remained silent, except for one almost at the very end. Daryl peered through the window and the sight of two naked, young girls hissing and throwing themselves at the door between them made him feel dirty and revolted. They were barely old enough for their hips to curve, for their breasts to sprout, and for one devastating second he wondered if maybe Sophia had been lucky to go out the way she had.

He pulled Carol past the door. "Don' look in there. Ain't no need to see shit like that. World's fucked up enough as it is." Her hand was shaking in his and he squeezed it, hoping his presence would be enough to keep those dark thoughts out of her head—he was having enough for the both of them.

There was a door at the end of the corridor. Daryl stopped, tried to listen with his ear up against the wood. He heard nothing but the bellowing ache of silence and decided to trust it. Pulling the door open slowly, he bounced around carefully on the soles of his feet, preparing to slam it shut the second it looked like anything threatening might descend on them. The door creaked open, revealing to anyone who happened to be waiting that an intruder had found this place, but there was no gun barrel greeting him once he stepped across the threshold, Carol almost plastered into his back. There was nothing but the aching finality of abandonment. And a staircase. They ascended it carefully, and he wished they could snuff out the lamp's wick but then they'd be in complete darkness and that was something that even at his age Daryl had never been able to get totally used to. Wasn't something he could accept without feeling fear curl up like an angry cat in his gut, ready to lash out hissing and scratching until something or someone bled.

Carol was breathing heavily behind him, erratic, her arm curled around his body so her hand rested against his belly and he wondered if she was working up to another of those panic attacks. Funny how she could be pursued by a gun-toting maniac, spend all day running shit scared through the woods, but small dark spaces or over-crowded prisons were the things that would send her into full-blown panic.

A trap door obscured the top of the stairs and Daryl shoved against it with his shoulder. Dust drifted down from the cracks as he dislodged it, and first it bumped against some kind of resistance on the other side, but the second shove had it bouncing open until he caught it and controlled its opening swing.

He could tell straight away the shack was deserted and had miraculously escaped the sweet, cloying stench of death. Whoever had locked those girls up was long gone, Daryl suspected, probably not giving a shit for his doomed little prisoners while he'd tried to get out and survive in a world that now had badass predators scarier with their fucked up shit than he ever was. Carol crawled up the stairs into the room after him and Daryl didn't waste time slamming the trapdoor shut. He looked around, noticing a small cabinet stacked with files and papers and he attempted to lift it over the door, finding it surprisingly heavy, grunting as he managed to shunt it across the floor to its new position. It hung half over the seal of the door and Daryl hoped that, if it didn't prove heavy enough to stop anyone following them up into the shack, then whoever lingered on the stairs would get that heavy as fuck cabinet tumbling right into their face.

The long winter the group had spent on the road fleeing from walker threats had taught them all to never leave a stone unturned, so while Daryl was looking out the only other exit to the place, trying to see if he recognised where he was, Carol was delving into the cupboards and finding a promising supply of canned food. His mouth salivated. Hell, he was so hungry he'd eat just about anything, but he was happy enough to scarf down the can of cold beef stew Carol handed over to him. She was avoiding his gaze, looking around the room and every so often her body would shudder like someone was walking over her grave.

"Spill." He was tired, dead tired, and he knew she was pushing beyond exhausted. Even if the Governor came hammering on the door right now he wasn't sure they could do shit about it.

"I don't want to stay here." She pouted, though he'd bet money she didn't even realise it.

"You gotta forget about all that sick shit. We're survivin' in here for the night—don't think 'bout where we are. Right now this is our place, just you an' me."

He could see her chest expand as she thought about it, her deep breathing technique an attempt to calm her down though it did nothing for his own equilibrium. He understood where she was coming from. He didn't want to sleep on that fucker's bed, didn't want to sit on the couch, didn't want to share shit with a person that could chain up little girls and do fuck knows what with them, then leave them to die an excruciating death.

"You're right," she said at last and a crushing weight seemed to ease off his chest. "We'll sleep a few hours then try and get back to the prison."

While he attempted to barricade the front door, she spread out their blankets on the floor. "Never thought I'd miss those prison cots, but boy are my tired old bones suffering from roughin' it on the floor."

Daryl grinned, the impulse unbidden as an image of her sleeping on a stack of mattresses flashed through his brain. "Didn't know you were such a princess," he teased before bedding down beside her.

"Hey, you might have grown up all rustic an' all, but where I grew up, we had beds." She was lying on her back, her eyes all crinkled at the corners as she squeezed them shut tight. Daryl rolled to his side and propped his head up on his hand.

"You'd look good on a bed, a proper one. Fancy sheets and covers and those flouncy European pillows tossed to the floor."

All thought of danger seemed to be sucked right out of the room as her face relaxed and that lethal expression blossomed—the one that warned him he was going to have a hell of a time getting to sleep after hearing whatever suggestive thing she had to say.

"Am I sleepin' in some silky negligee or are you just imaginin' me naked?"

"Pffft. I'm a shy man, sweetheart. In my dreams you're wearing flannel PJ's an' big fluffy socks."

"You scared of my ankles, Dixon?" she asked, eyebrow arched, eyes wide and he straight away got to wondering how often he'd ever seen her ankles. In all the time they'd been running from walkers, a year they'd all spent in each other's pockets, he didn't think he'd glimpsed a bit of her skin from her shoulders down unless the sun had already kissed it. Couldn't recall if he'd ever seen her barefoot.

He frowned. "Maybe. Ain't never seen 'em to know for sure."

"We get out of here, I'll let you have a glimpse," she promised, reaching for his free hand and twining her fingers through his.

"Of your ankles? What if I wanna see more than that?" There was a steady pounding rhythm that seemed to echo in his head, his body flushing with warmth as he stroked Carol's wrist with his thumb.

She shuffled closer, her chest pressed up against his chest, breasts flattened enticingly as she kissed his chin. "You will. I'm lookin' forward to strippin' you naked an' I figure turnaround is fair play and all."

He wasn't as panicked about that thought as he might have been, even just months ago. Seemed like Merle discovering the secret he'd hidden from his own brother all his life had broken his need to hold all of that pain and shame in, and it wasn't like his torso was much of a mystery to this woman since she'd barged in after Hershel had patched him up to offer him kind words and emotional sustenance.

"You know I ain't pretty to look at," he warned, just in case she'd somehow forgotten and then he immediately dismissed his worry when her molten gaze started a fire in his belly that spread like wildfire to his groin.

"You," she said, her voice low and husky, her fingers slowly stroking his jaw and ruffling the scruff that was beginning to grey, her thumb tracing the plump jut of his bottom lip, "are the prettiest man I think I've ever seen. They broke the mould with you."

"Some might say that was God's blessin' on the world."

"No, the blessing would have been you. Breakin' the mould was just selfish. I feel sorry for all those other poor women that don't get to have one of you."

Now she'd done it. His cheeks flamed and he dropped his head against her shoulder. "Fuck, you're bizarre," he decided, and as much as he wanted to strip her naked right there and then, he didn't want their first time to take place on the filthy floor of some paedophile nutcase's shack in the woods.

"'An' you're….somethin'…but sadly I'm too exhausted to think straight. Just know it's somethin' really good." He could hear the subtle drag in her words now as her consciousness started to lag, and he was grateful. She needed sleep, they both needed an energy boost so he could really make a concerted effort to get them home. When he pulled back he found her eyes closed again, her chest rising and falling with her steady breaths. His gaze was riveted to the deep tan across her chest and shoulders and the stark white of her flesh beneath her shirt line, and the curve of her breasts. One day soon he was going to look at all of her, see all those lines and curves unfettered with clothing and he was going to cherish them with his mouth until he had her writhing and begging him to douse the scorching flames. And he would, making her body sing for him so sweet it'd put Beth's dulcet tones to shame.

Hell, he was good at dreaming. He might as well make himself look calm and skilled while he was at it.