Disclaimer: I do not own the Walking Dead or its characters
Daryl walked swiftly towards C Block the prison buildings, a bag of medicine slung over his shoulder along with his crossbow, Michonne, Ty, and Bob behind him. The run was successful and those in need would receive the necessary antibiotics. He did his part, brought back the necessary supplies as usual. Now all he wanted was to take his hard-earned rest on his lumpy prison cot. The prison yard was deserted, no longer teeming with life since the flu invaded the prison. He had expected as much, but he still expected there to be some life there, maybe Carol fetching water or Rick tending to the crops or hell, even Maggie taking watch. He felt uneasy, wondering if the rest of his family finally succumbed to the strange illness that overtook their home.
Then the door to C Block opened and Rick stepped out, relief spreading over his face at the prospect of meds, but the relief was at war with something else, something Daryl vaguely recalled from long ago. He twitched his head, almost like he was trying to flick away the déjà vu away like an irksome fly.
"Did you get it?" Rick asked anxiously, approaching the ragtag group with a curious mix of eagerness and apprehension.
"Got it all," Daryl replied, choosing not to elaborate right now on the struggles they faced along the way. There would be time for that later.
"Good. Good," Rick said, nodding his head, but it was almost like there was something he wasn't saying, like the conversation wasn't over.
"Is everything alright here?" Michonne questioned, her dark eyes appraising the former lawman in front of them. Michonne also sensed that there was something amiss. Rick let out a weary sigh.
"A lot more people went into quarantine," Rick said, "Hershel is trying out some flu remedies. It seems to have slowed down the symptoms, but there's been a few that didn't make it. I went on a run myself…ransacked some houses not too far away."
"Alone?" Daryl asked, frowning as it was highly unusual for Rick to leave the prison at all anymore. The former leader preferred to stick close to home to care for Carl and Lil' Asskicker. Rick no longer went on runs and certainly he wouldn't go alone without backup. Surely he had taken Maggie with him. The two of them could've made their way back from a run easy.
"I took Carol," Rick answered, taking all of the wind from Daryl's sails. Daryl knew full well that Carol could hold her own. He had taught her how to fight, taught her how to survive this world that he seemed to be made for. Still, the thought of her out there, fighting the hordes without him, made him feel uneasy. It had become second nature to him to look out for her, be it covering her in battle, making sure she took a break from her endless responsibilities, or even just checking in to see how she was coping to the latest episode of the horror show that they were all currently living. Somewhere along the way, Daryl had grown to care about the willful widow and the two of them had forged a bond unlike any other he had experienced in his life. Carol Peletier was one of the few people who managed to push through his walls and pull him to his feet. In doing so, she led him to care about the people around him, but most of all, she led him to care about her.
"Carol?" Michonne asked in surprise of Rick's choice in backup. Rick nodded. Daryl was keyed into the man's body language, how he shifted as he said Carol's name, how he glanced towards the ground. Daryl felt his heart speed in his chest.
"Where is she?" Daryl demanded, pushing past the former leader and calling the woman's name, "Carol! Carol!"
"Daryl, slow up a minute," Rick said softly, "There was a problem."
Daryl halted and turned back towards Rick. He tried to get control over his rapid heartbeat and the sick feeling that settled into his gut. He choked out a question, hoping that Rick would answer in the negative, "She dead?"
Rick let out a shaky breath and spoke, though each word was forced from his lips, "There's no easy way to say this: Carol…Carol was the one who killed Karen and David."
At first, the words didn't register and Daryl stood there mutely staring at his friend as his mind tried desperately to process what was said. He was waiting for Rick to laugh and say 'Gotcha' or for Rick to continue, saying, 'Carol was the one who killed Karen and David after they turned' or 'Carol was the one who killed Karen and David for so-and-so.' Except those words never came. Rick just stood there, stoic, as his eyes glanced over the supply team.
"Carol?" Michonne questioned, nearly as stunned as Daryl.
"She thought they were a threat," Rick revealed, "She said that they were suffering so she ended it and then she burned the bodies to keep it from spreading. She said she did it to try to protect everyone."
"Carol did this?" Tyreese demanded, anger and disbelief warring for dominance in his tone, "Where is she?"
"She's gone," Rick admitted.
"Gone?" Daryl whispered. The word 'gone' was a funny one, as it could mean one who has went away or one who had passed on. In their world, where the dead feasted on the living, the word 'gone' had come to be associated with those who had died and the thought of Carol ceasing to be part of the living did strange things to Daryl, made him want to scream, cry, hit something, curl into a ball, leave for days, and then scream some more.
Rick winced at the word as well, but for a different reason. Just a few months prior, Carol had asked the same question of Rick, her eyes filled with tears as Rick told her that Daryl had left them, had walked away, and was just gone.
"She's alive," Rick said, though there was little comfort in it to Daryl, "I left her out there with some supplies and a car. I told her to leave."
"You what?" both Tyreese and Daryl demanded, though for different reasons. Tyreese wanted blood for Karen's murder; Daryl wanted the woman he cared about. Daryl stepped towards Rick, hissing air out between his clenched teeth.
"You put Carol in a car and you told her to drive away?" Daryl spat, shifting on his feet and pacing wildly as rage began to course through him as the injustice of it all took hold. Rick had no right to tell Carol to go; he wasn't their leader anymore. He had waived that right in favour of redirecting his wayward son and rearing a baby that might not be his. Rick Grimes had no right to make that decision.
"Yeah," Rick said heavily, bowing his head.
Seeing Rick there, seeing his bowed head and hearing that affirmation caused something in Daryl to snap back to a time nearly two years prior when the two men had once stood in a campsite in a quarry, no closer than strangers. The déjà vu made sense now as the memories came crashing back. He remembered feeling the same rage over the injustice of this man handcuffing his brother to a roof and leaving him for dead. He remembered taking the string of squirrels and throwing it at Rick, hoping to distract him. He remembered lunging with his knife only to be put into a painful chokehold by Shane.
The quarry seemed like a lifetime ago and yet he could see everything clearly in his mind as if it had just happened yesterday. The situations were the same. Rick had once again left someone that Daryl cared about behind. Suddenly, Daryl was very much aware of the bag of medicine slung over his shoulder, not unlike the string of squirrels was in the quarry. He tempered the urge to throw the bag at Rick's head. There were delicate supplies in there, ones that were needed for the sick, and breaking them over Rick would be a waste.
Daryl let the bag drop to the ground and then he stalked towards Rick, his face contorted in rage as he invaded Rick's personal space, Daryl's forehead connecting with Rick's in a primal 'move-and-I'm-gonna-fuck-you-up' way.
"Daryl-" Rick protested, moving to step back, but Daryl's hands sprang out and grabbed the front of Rick's shirt.
"You left her alone!" Daryl screamed in Rick's face.
"Daryl, stop!" someone cried and then there were arms on him, dragging him off of Rick.
"Let go of me!" Daryl raged against Tyreese's hold.
"She was a danger to us all!" Rick snapped, "She was a threat and she had to leave!"
"So you sentence her to death?" Daryl shouted, "Left her on her own to be food for the walkers! How is that any goddamn different from what ya say she done?" he screamed, still fighting. Suddenly he was on the ground, his body connecting with the pavement with a painful thud as he was shoved to the ground.
"She killed Karen and David!" Tyreese's booming voice reminded him.
"Carol will survive," Rick stated, "She's capable. Strong. She'll fight. We need to focus on the sick and-"
"So that's it?" Daryl screamed now, still seated on his ass as movement caused pain to shoot through him, "Ya just gonna leave her out there like a sack of trash? That all she meant to ya? Carol took care of ya damn kids while ya were off chasin' fuckin' ghosts 'round this place!"
"Daryl, do you think this was easy?" Rick shouted back, "She was my friend too, but she made her choice! She killed two of our own!"
Daryl ran his hands through his long hair in stress. Carol was out there somewhere, all alone, and would be facing horrors without him at her side. The thought killed him. He got to his feet, aware of the way everyone present hovered, ready to prevent him from pouncing. Daryl looked over to the man he had once considered brother and asked, "Where is she?"
"I don't know," Rick answered honestly.
"Then where the hell did ya go on this run?" Daryl questioned desperately, "Tell me so I can go find her."
"Find her?" Rick questioned, "Daryl, she killed-"
"I know what she did!" Daryl roared, "Ya only fuckin' said it ten fuckin' times!"
He spun on his heel and stormed towards his motorcycle, stashing what gear he had into the saddlebag. Rick followed, leaving Michonne, Bob, and Tyreese frozen in front of the cellblocks.
"Daryl, you can't go after her!" Rick protested.
"Why the hell not?" Daryl snarled, "Ya makin' that decision for me too?"
He was done with this man who alternated between 'This is not a democracy' and 'I can't make these decisions anymore'. Rick had claimed to have stepped down, but here he was, making a decision for the good of the group without consulting the group. Rick could've brought Carol back. He could have let the group decide her fate and let them understand, say goodbye to her. Instead, he made the decision for them and it was the wrong one.
"Daryl, you're needed here," Rick stated firmly.
"No," Daryl snapped back, shaking his head, "No her, no me."
He was aware that he had once said something similar a few months prior, on the side of a road, only that time, he had been speaking of Merle, his brother.
"NO!" Daryl yelled before reigning himself under control, "No! No her, no me 'cause if it weren't for her, there'd be no me!"
"She's not the same woman!" Rick protested, trying to get the rough redneck to see sense, "She's cold. Calculating. She's only focused on surviving. Her humanity…it's gone, Daryl! I don't recognize her anymore."
"Maybe ya would if ya didn't have ya head buried so damn deep in the dirt!" Daryl spat viciously.
"Daryl, she killed in cold-blood-"
"What, like Carl did?" Daryl demanded, turning the tables on Rick, "He killed in cold-blood. Shot a kid when he was handing over his gun!"
Rick was on guard now, defending his son from the attack, growling out, "That was different."
"Why? 'Cause he's someone you love?" Daryl shot at Rick, "That's the difference, ain't it, Rick? Carl's your kid, but Carol…Carol ain't worth shit to ya other than bein' willin' to take care of ya kids, doin' ya laundry, or cookin' ya fuckin' breakfast!"
Rick was in Daryl's face, shouting out, "That isn't true!"
"The fuck it ain't!" Daryl shouted back, "When's the last time ya said fuckin' 'thank ya' to her for that shit? When was the last time ya asked her if she was okay? She took care of us all!"
"Carol is too far-gone to take care of this group. Her decisions made that clear!"
"She did it for us!" Daryl shouted, "She killed for us in a last ditch effort to stop this fuckin' thing! She didn't do it 'cause she enjoyed it! And who the fuck are ya to decide that she's too far-gone?" Daryl demanded.
"I've been there!" Rick said, "It's dangerous-"
"But ya came back from it!" Daryl yelled, "Carl did! So why can't Carol? What makes her different?"
"This would've split the group!" Rick raged, "Karen and David deserve justice and Tyreese would've killed her! Probably still might if he ever runs across her! I sent her away to protect us and her!"
"Keep tellin' yourself that," Daryl groused, a hand on the handle of his bike as he looked to Rick, "Now where the fuck did ya leave her?"
"Daryl, she's probably long gone! This won't do any good!" Rick protested with a snarl.
"Don't fuckin' care!" Daryl snarled back, "I'm gonna search every goddamn nook and cranny of Georgia and if I don't find her, then I'll do the same to every goddamn state in this fuckin' coutry 'til I do!"
"And what are you going to do if you find her?" Rick asked, "She isn't welcome here!"
Daryl glared daggers at the man as he considered what he would do when he found her. It had taken her being torn from his life to realize how deeply he cared for Carol and he wasn't letting that go.
"Depends how I find her," he admitted, "If she's alive, I'm gonna tell her how much she means to me. Gonna say I ain't writin' her off and I ain't lettin' her pull away," he paused, struck by something she once said about not letting him pull away. He let out a breath and dropped the gauntlet, "Then I'm gonna tell her I love her."
To Daryl's satisfaction, all the colour drained from Rick's face at the declaration, leaving the man struggling to turn something over in his mind.
"You love her?" Rick croaked, "After she…you…"
"Ya loved Lori even after she fucked your best friend," Daryl reminded him, coldly reminding Rick of his late wife's indiscretions, something no one had ever done.
"You…that…" Rick spluttered. He quieted off as Daryl got into his face again so that they were touching foreheads again.
"I love her," Daryl repeated and then continued in a growl, "And if she's alive, ya ain't gonna see her or me again," at this, Rick's eyes widened in shock, but Daryl wasn't finished, "If she ain't…if I find her and she's dead, I'm bringing her back here. I'm gonna lay her at ya feet. Then I'm gonna kill ya."
With that, Daryl turned and mounted the bike.
"Daryl…" Rick's voice was pained, "Brother, don't-"
"Don't fuckin' call me that!" Daryl snarled, "I forgave ya for a lot of shit, Rick! After this…I can't forgive ya for this! Ya ain't shit to me no more. Now tell me where the fuck ya left her?"
Hurt and pain and maybe even remorse flashed over Rick's face as he reached into his pocket and retrieved a map marked with their former location. Daryl snatched it away and kicked the bike to life.
Then he left the prison forever.
Daryl drove for miles, arriving first in the neighbourhood where Carol and Rick had foraged for expired drugs and tomatoes. There was no sign of life and Daryl knew that she would not stay there. He knew Carol and knew that she would move on, sticking to secondary highways rather than major interstates. He planned to fan out from there, using the abandoned neighbourhood as a starting point. He would look for signs of any recent human activity and he would go from there.
He received his first clue two days after he left the prison, finding the remnants of a campsite on the side of an abandoned highway. He followed the highway, always scanning his surroundings for more evidence of human activity.
About four hours after finding the campsite, he found an abandoned car on the side of the road and a walker corpse beside it. He dismounted the bike and examined the corpse. It had been killed efficiently, a knife to the eye. He examined the car. All useful supplies had been looted and the gas had been siphoned.
He hit the road for another two hours before coming across a farmhouse. It looked abandoned, but he was running dangerously low on fuel and wondered if there was a pump on the property. He eased down the long driveway and noticed he was in luck. There was a fuel pump just off the barn and relief coursed through him as he pulled up to it and dismounted. He put the nozzle into the tank and began to fill up. He looked down and noticed a white flower blooming on a bush near the barn. A Cherokee Rose, that flower that gave Carol strength and hope when she had none. He reached for it, snapping it off and putting it into his pocket. If Rick was right, if Carol had lost her touch with humanity, then Daryl was going to drag her back, starting with this symbol of the bond they forged. He glanced around the farm, noticing for the first time that a grey station wagon hidden off behind the house, nose pointed out for an easy getaway.
Daryl abandoned the pump and crossed the yard with long purposeful strides. He took the steps two at a time and crossed the porch. He noticed the plywood and the blankets covering the windows. He had a feeling that if he tried the doorknob, he would find that it would turn, but the door would be nailed shut.
His predictions were confirmed and he stepped back. He aimed a powerful kick at the door and it flung open, the boards that had kept it shut flew into the entryway. He stepped inside and looked around. It was nothing fancy, a simple house with a dining room on one side of him and a living room on the other with stairs leading up to more bedrooms. He entered the living room and found evidence of a fire in the fireplace.
Then he heard a sound, a soft, quick footstep, and whirled around, grabbing his attacker's arm on instinct. His left hand closed on a thin wrist to keep the knife from digging into him and his right found the woman's waist. His eyes met hers, a pool of blue that never seemed to set him at ease. In his travels, he had often thought about the moment where he would see her again. He had wondered if the sight of her would provoke anger and disgust over her crime, but that wasn't the case. He simply saw the woman who had become such an important part of his life, the woman who would go to any lengths to protect those she loved, him included.
"Daryl?" Carol whispered, the knife slipping from her hand and clattering on the floor. He did not let her go, keeping her firmly in his grasp. He gave her a once over, his blue eyes scanning her for injury and relief swept through him when he found none. She was perhaps a little dirtier than four days prior, but she was unharmed.
"Daryl, what are you doing here?" she asked breathlessly. She was one of the few people that he could read and he could see that she was on guard, trying to shield her emotions from him. He wondered if she feared that he would kill her for what she done, if he had been tasked to hunt her down and dole out punishment for her crime. He thought out her question and realized that he had asked her something similar once when she had invaded his camp to reach out to him. His mouth quirked slightly as he realized that he was now the invader and she was a guarded as he had been than night.
"Keepin' an eye on ya," he told her, borrowing her words. Her brow knitted into a frown as she tried to pull away from his hold, but he held her there, finding and holding her gaze, and added, "'I'm not gonna let ya pull away. Ya earned your place.' Ain't that what ya told me a long time ago?"
Recognition flitted over her face and her lower lip trembled slightly. Then she steeled herself and said, "I'm not pulling away. I killed two people. This…this is the way it has to be. I can't go back."
"I know," Daryl said simply, "and I ain't lettin' ya go it alone."
"Don't do that," Carol beseeched him, "They need you at the prison-"
"They don't need me. You do," he corrected her. Carol swallowed a lump in her throat and shook her head slightly.
"I can take care of myself, Daryl. I…I'm not afraid to be alone. Not anymore," she revealed, harkening back to that night when he had called her out on her fears of being alone after the deaths of her husband and daughter. He shrugged his shoulders.
"Can't do nothin' without people no more," he replied, repeating the truth he had discovered when the dead started chewing on the living.
"I'll be fine. I can survive on my own," she assured him, "Daryl, this isn't your burden to bear. It's mine. You can go back. You can have a life there at the prison."
"I could," he nodded in agreement, "and I ain't got a doubt that ya can survive damn near anythin'."
"I can," Carol said, and he was starting to wonder if she was trying to convince him or herself, "You taught me how. You should go home."
"I ain't goin' nowhere," Daryl refused, and for a moment, he was amused at the frustration that crept into her face, "See, I could go back. Could have a life there, 'cept it wouldn't be much of one. That place…the prison…ya was the one that made it a home…made it my home. If ya ain't there…hell, it'd just be my tomb."
Confusion won the war with the frustration as Carol took in his words, considered the meaning, and for a moment, hope flashed in her eyes followed closely by remorse.
"Daryl, you can't," she whimpered, fighting a war with the tears in her eyes, "If you stay with me, you'll regret it. Rick…Glenn…the others…you love them."
"I love you," he stated clearly and firmly. Her face crumpled as the tears streamed down her cheeks to her lips, which were curled in a weak smile. He took that moment to pull her body to his and lean down to catch her lips in his, reaching up with one hand to cup her cheek while the other held tight to her waist. He savoured the moment she responded to him, her mouth twisting against his sweetly and with more finesse than what he showed. He could taste her tears as his tongue darted out to trace her lower lip. She parted her lips for him, but he resisted the urge to taste her and pulled back slightly. He waited as her eyes opened and when he was sure that he had her undivided attention, he spoke.
"There ain't nowhere else I wanna be," he murmured, "This…you and me…this is what I want. You're the only person in this damn world that I'd follow to the gates of Hell and back. Only person I care this damn much about."
"After what I did…Daryl, I don't know if I…I don't know if I have it in me to feel…" she whimpered. He traced her chin with his calloused thumb.
"Ya did it to try to protect us. Ya thought it might help," Daryl replied matter-of-factly, "And as for ya feeling…I know ya can. I can see it and ya don't gotta be afraid of it. Ain't no point in fightin' so hard to survive if we ain't livin' and part of livin' is feelin'. Ya showed me that and if ya forgot along the way…I'll show ya again."
He let his hand move from her chin to his pocket where he revealed the Cherokee Rose to her. Her breath caught in her throat as she stared at the white blossom with the yellow center and more tears managed to spill from her eyes. Carol clung to him, her fists curling into his chest as she cried into the leather. Every feeling she had pushed back over the last year and a half was brought to the surface. Grief, regret, hope, and love. It came out of her in waves, filling her shattered heart back up.
Daryl held her there. Rick was wrong. Carol's humanity was still there. It was just hidden, tucked away so that she could focus on living, surviving another day in this world that had robbed her of so much and changed her into something different. At her core, deep inside, she was still that woman who cared too damn much. Daryl suspected, as he held her trembling body to his, that had she not built those inner walls, she would have crumbled under the pressure of all of those feelings a long time ago.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her breathing shaky as she struggled to regain control, resting her head on his leather vest.
"It's okay to feel, Carol," he murmured back. It took a moment before she nodded against him and looked back up at him. Her eyes were red and puffy and there were tear-tracks on her face, but she was smiling softly. She reached up and laced her hands together behind his neck.
"Don't let me go, Daryl," she pleaded.
"Never lettin' go so long as you don't," he promised her.
"Then I won't let go," Carol vowed, standing up on her tip-toes while pulling his head closer to hers. Their lips met once more and Daryl knew, without a doubt, that he would never again be parted from this woman. When she walked into his life that day in the quarry, he had spent his first forty years surviving. He didn't start living until he met her, until she decided that he was worth speaking to, worth caring about. She made him open up, care for more than just himself, and become somebody he was proud of. He would do the same for her, remind her that she was still the woman he loved. He would fight for her, bring her back from the edge.
That was the thing that made Daryl and Carol's bond so strong. They could see the good in each other, even under all the bad and they fought for each other every day. Life would never be easy at the end of the world, but as long as they had each other, they would live, not just survive. As long as they had each other, they would have all they would ever need.
AN: So this NEEDED to get out following Carol's banishment in 'Indifference'. The episode itself was excellent, bringing forth a whole host of fantastic dialogue. However, I am highly upset with Carol being banished single-handedly by a man who has not only been with her since the beginning, but had also fought to bring himself and his sociopathic son back from the brink, yet could not fight for one of his closest friends. Real nice, Rick. I feel betrayed on behalf of Carol. Daryl had better flip shit over this. He is her best friend and I will be pissed if they make him shrug it off. (on a side-note, how freaking hot was it when he was in Bob's face)