A/N: Recently finished watching Season 3 for the first time. Totally blown away; the season itself was an excellent build to a stellar finale. Can't wait for season 4. Anyway, this tale takes place at the end of the episode 'Clear.' I took a lot of notes while watching the seaon, looking for opportunity to deviate from cannon where I could. I find the character of Car Grimes most intriguing, and I hope I do him justice here and in stories to come. I own nothing here except for the contents of of the yellow backpack. No beta, no pre read, all errors are my own.
As the car sped past, the bright spray of red, and of fleshy pink, was a blur. Once, maybe not so long ago, the sight of that much blood, of that much carnage, would have scared anyone, not just Carl Grimes. In the front seat, Rick turned to watch it go by, and so Carl turned, too, with a passive face and an understanding of his father's reasoning.
The world was harsh, now. Divided. Michonne was one of them. The eviscerated hitchhiker was not, and never would have been.
The car slowed and Carl was already gripping the handle as it stopped and then slid into reverse. He threw the door open at the last second and leaned out of his seat, snagging the straps of the abandoned pack the stranger had worn, and though he felt the wet, sticky squelch of blood where it had soaked into the nylon, he ignored it. He already carried the worst blood-borne pathogen imaginable. All of them did. With one easy tug, the teenager hauled the pack into the back of the car. His clear, aquamarine eyes cut to Michonne in the driver's seat, and he gave her a nod that could be compared to the ones Rick used to communicate with Daryl. Michonne's dark eyes were sympathetic, but with a worldly harshness to them. Carl wondered if he looked like that to others. He laid his hand on the pack beside him, already claiming it and the contents within. In his other hand he clutched the picture of his mother, his father, and him.
In the confines of his cell, Carl carefully slid open the buckles on the orange pack. The nylon was worn and tearing in some places, and had been repaired with duct tape and a hasty needle and thread. When he lifted the top flap, faded, black block lettering caught his eye and he angled his head to read: 'Thomas Powell.' The hitchhiker had a name. Carl's fingers brushed over the letters before moving to the drawstring that cinched the main body of the pack closed. Patiently, he worked the knot free, and then drew the thick cord from the grommets and wound it around his palm before setting it aside.
He ducked his head, using the fading afternoon light to catch a glimpse of what he might pull out first. He came up with a green tin of O'Keefe's Working Hands lotion and worked the lid off, rubbing fingertips along the surface of the balm. His hands were rough, cracked and callused from the last year, but then again, so were everyone else's. He set the tin aside with the cord, and continued rummaging through the bag.
A thick flannel shirt came next, and a pair of pants. He held both of them up, eying them closely. Checking the labels, he confirmed that they were both a men's large, and he was about to tuck them onto his father's bunk when, while standing, the pants unfurled. Carl looked down, holding the garment against his body. The waist might be big, but the legs weren't too long. And there were pockets, too, a lot of them, places to hold things and hide things. He turned the pants over in his hands. The seams were rather intact, and all the buttons seemed to be present, which was a rarity. Ditching the pants, he shrugged out of his long-sleeved shirt and pulled the flannel on. It was roomy in the shoulders, but not by much, and the sleeves could be rolled up. The clothing, he decided, would be his.
Next, he pulled out a stick of sun block that was almost completely gone, and he weighed it in his palm for a moment. It wasn't like any of them really had to worry about skin cancer these days. Besides, a year and a bit out in the elements had turned his fair, fine skin ruddy, and freckles were more frequent. His dad was darker. They all were. Except for Judith. She still had that baby-fine skin, milk-white and soft. He'd save her the pain of a sunburn as long as he could. The tube went into the breast pocket of his new shirt.
He found wooden matches in a water-tight container, a small canister of white gas and a one-man stove, and half a litre of water sloshing around in an old Coke bottle. Moving to the floor, he hooked the canister to the stove and thumbed the striker on the side. Nothing. With a resigned sigh he sacrificed a match and held it to the element. Sure enough, the stove flared to life, and Carl nodded to himself. He turned the gas off and folded the stove back up. He'd seen Daryl with something similar over the winter, but it had been abandoned after the gas had run out. The redneck said it had come in handy on runs when he was by himself. Carl added it to the pile and twisted the cap off of the Coke bottle.
He sniffed it first, just in case, and was glad he did – it wasn't water. The cool burn of alcohol filled his nose and he wasn't sure if it might be vodka or moonshine. He was leaning towards the latter as he screwed the lid back on, and he tapped the bottle against his knee for a spell. He'd probably never get to have another drink, when he turned 21 (if he turned 21), or otherwise. The sip of wine at the CDC not withstanding, Carl took a breath and twisted the cap back open. He pressed the open bottle to his lips, and his eyes squeezed shut as he sent up a tiny prayer that it wasn't gasoline in the bottle. The liquid touched his lips, slid into his mouth, burned, and then lit a smooth fire as it rolled down his throat. He managed to not cough, but the breath he expelled after was hot, gasping, and he held the bottle at arms length, inspecting it. Slowly, numbing warmth began to fill his limbs and he took another breath and let it out. Whatever it was, it didn't taste bad and it sure packed a punch. He capped the bottle and wedged it under the mattress of his bunk.
There was a roll of duct tape, half gone, but half was better than none, and Carl tossed the roll up in the air and caught it smartly. Shane had once said this stuff fixed everything. Carl scoffed now – it most certainly could not fix the hole he'd blown in his mother's head, and it most certainly could not fix the fact that the world had been torn apart. His eyes wandered the cell and landed on the cracked sole of his boot, so he tore a length of tape off and wrapped it around securely, noting that he'd need to find another pair before winter. His toes were cramped. The roll of tape sailed over his shoulder with a blind toss and landed on the bunk with a thud. Once more, his hand dove into the cavity of the bag.
He knew squirrel jerky when he saw it, and ventured that this wad clutched in his hand was most likely venison. Tearing a corner off with his teeth he chewed slowly, and winced when the tough meat landed against the sensitive gums at the back of his jaw. "Wisdom teeth', Hershel had said the other day. 'A sure sign you're growing up.' Carl had smiled wanly at that – he was pretty certain he'd grown up the day he'd shot Shane. The remaining jerky went to one side, away from the loot he'd already dug. Objects such as clothing and trinkets and tools were one thing, but food needed to be shared. Anyone could see that
His fingers curled around a small nylon sleeve and he lifted it to his eye line and ripped the Velcro flat back, revealing a grubby multi-tool. He worked quickly, slipping it from its pouch and opening the main arms, which formed the handles to a set of pliers. Tucked inside of the handles were various implements – an array of blades, ranging in size and serrated edges, a small saw, a worn file, crude scissors and a screwdriver. He squinted, taking in the cross-pattern. Robertson? He shook his head. No, no. Phillips. A Phillips head – he remembered his dad saying that was a fairly universal type of screw. He folded the tool back up to its compact size, fitting neatly in his palm, and then noted the belt-loop attached to the back of the sleeve. He might not be able to get his hands on a hunting knife the size of Daryl's, but he ventured the multi-tool would do in a pinch for most things. Rising to his knees, Carl flipped open his belt and threaded the worn leather through the sleeve, and then fastened the buckle once more. It was a weight at his hip, but not much. He'd get used to it, like he had the heavy draw of his gun.
He found another small coil of cord, similar to the one he'd drawn from the top of the pack, and he twisted the lengths together, thinking he might make a snare and go hunting with Daryl at some point. Maybe Michonne, too? She was stealthy. He reached back into the bag and found a flat, dark stone and deduced it was a whetstone. With renewed vigour, he ventured back into the pack but found no knife – he guessed the hitchhiker had been wearing it – and instead came up with a large, sealed aluminum can with the label torn off, a pair of shoelaces, a woollen cap, three live rounds to a revolver, a shotgun shell, two packages of instant noodles, a pair of socks, a small, unassuming seashell, and a bundle of cloth tied with crude string.
The noodles and the unlabeled can were set aside and he stuffed the bullets into his shirt pocket where they rattled against the tube of sunscreen. The socks, shoelaces, and cap went into the pile with the new pants, and Carl paused briefly as he cupped the seashell in his hand. His thumb rubbed the smooth, inner surface, his eyes focused on the impossibly purple sheen. He hadn't seen purple like that in a long time – only in a sunset, and that was fleeting. He wondered if maybe this Thomas Powel hadn't kept it for the purpose of its color, and to remind him of a time long past. It certainly served no practical use and Carl wound his arm back, ready to pitch it against the wall to make it shatter, when he stopped short. The seashell might not have a use to him, but it meant something to someone once, and it might do so again. Carl had been to the Georgia coast only twice, and he doubted Judith would ever get to see it. If she did, it would be a ghost of what her older brother had known.
He untied the string that bound the cloth shut and parted the frayed edges. Inside, there lay two books, paperbacks, and by the look of them, well used, and, he ventured, well loved. He recognized the titles; his mother had both of them once on a bookshelf in a house that was no longer there. The crude, red words of Morgan's map that spelled out 'burned out' were burned in to his memory.
The first book was entitled 'Alan Quartermain' and had been written by someone named 'H Rider Haggard'. Carl thumbed the pages briefly, wrinkling his nose at the stale smell of paper and bindings. He'd never read this one before. His dad had been the one to read to him, read him everything, from Leningen Versus the Ants to The Cremation of Sam McGee. There hadn't been time though, in those last months, between the looks passed between his parents and the overriding feel of general loathing that shrouded the house.
The second book was one he knew. The worn copy of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath fell open where the spine was cracked, and one line was underlined in faded pencil: 'Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of."
Judith's high, thin wail broke through the silence of the cell block, and the rushing sound of footsteps followed, along with voices, as Carol and Beth rushed to calm the baby. Sure enough, Daryl's gruff voice was heard a few moments late. Judith's fussing stopped almost immediately, and Carl shook his head in disbelief. He almost couldn't wrap his head around the redneck having that affect on his baby sister, let alone anyone else.
They'd all changed, though, over the winter. They'd evolved. They weren't a bunch of strangers thrown together in even stranger circumstances. Now it felt like they were almost a family. It didn't matter who they had been in the past. Carl shook his head at that thought – no, it did matter, to some degree. Who they were in the past shaped who they would become. Somewhere along the way, though, his father had lost sight of that.
Carl might have been young, but he wasn't naïve – his father wasn't weathering the loss of his mother well at all. The thought made Carl's face turn sour. He'd been the one with her in her last moments; he'd been the one to shoot her. Wasn't that worse than not having said goodbye? It didn't matter either way. She was dead – Lori Grimes, Carl's mother, Rick's wife, was dead, and long since buried, and there were more important things at stake than a sheriff's broken heart. Carl scoffed again. His father hadn't been a sheriff in a very long time. Maybe he needed reminding.
Shuffling to his feet, Carl began packing away his new found belongings into their new homes. The things claimed as his own went into his rucksack, and those to be shared by the group were loaded back into Thomas Powell's backpack. The backpack he set on the floor next to the cell door and he pitched the rucksack onto the top bunk where his father slept. A small, metallic clink as it landed caught Carl's attention and he shifted to the bunk and slipped his hand between the mattress and the frame. His fingertips glided carefully along the jagged track until he came across something small and circular. He cast a sidelong glance out to the hall, cocking his head for the determined heaviness of his father's footsteps coming his way. When he heard nothing he lifted the mattress and found the badge from his father's hat staring back at him.
He quickly plucked the badge from its place and jammed it into his pocket. His father had been in denial far too long. Something needed to be done about the situation, about the Governor, the town of Woodbury, about Merle, about Judith…about all of them. He knew his father couldn't handle it on his own, but that didn't mean he couldn't handle it to some degree. His father was a good man; or had been at one time not so long ago. All he needed was a push in the right direction. If the symbol of upholding justice and protection of those who needed it couldn't shake his father up, then Carl didn't know if anything would. Being a sheriff was all Rick Grimes had ever known.
A sharp rapping on the bars made Carl's back stiffen and he sucked in a quick breath, pulled from his reverie, and turned to find Daryl in the corridor, a very content Judith cradled on one forearm. He gave a quick tick of his chin towards Carl, the redneck's way of greeting those in the group. "Time t'eat. We got watch t'night."
"Okay, I'll be right there," Carl nodded, dropping the mattress back into place. He glanced to Daryl again. The hunter's blue eyes were calculating, observant. He didn't miss anything.
Daryl grunted and moved off towards the staircase, muttering under his breath in a strangely soothing voice as Judith cooed. Carl waited a beat, regained his breathing, and then hoisted Thomas Powell's backpack onto his shoulder. The fact that he carried the pieces of a man's life on his back was not lost on Carl, nor was the fact that he had divided the man's inventory and integrated his own. They'd all done it, for each other, sacrificed themselves for the whole. He only hoped that those things that had been sacrificed could be salvaged and used again some day.