Stones in the Road part 3/3

He watched her face crack as she brought her hand up to her throat, looking at him like he'd just given her a million bucks.

"I don't want to be without you… I don't want to be without any of you, but there's nothing I can do. I made this move. I can't wish it away or fix it with a venison hide. I have to go. I have to."

She sat back down in the driver's seat but didn't close the door, or make to go. She just sat there. Daryl stuck his hands in his pocket and paced about, his quiver empty of arrows and his arms tired after opening himself to her and achieving nothing. That was when he felt the jasper stone, hiding in the corner of his pocket. He rubbed his fingers over the smooth surface, felt the jagged edges and rough spots.

"What about Lizzie and Mika?" he finally asked.

"Rick was right. I can't take them out on the road. It's not fair to them. They're better off where they are. There are people there who'll take care of them, do what's right."

"You just gonna walk away from them like this? Not even fight to go back to them?" Daryl wasn't angry now, but he wanted to provoke her; get her to realise that this was no solution to a fucked up situation. It was just heaping more shit on top of it.

"Daryl, please. I can't fight. I've nothing to fight with. I'm glad I got to see you and explain but this is the way it has to be."

She pulled the car door closed and went to start the engine. In a flash Daryl leapt across the hood and opened the passenger door. She looked at him angrily, as he jumped into the car beside her.

"Fine. Then ya ain't going without me."

"Don't be stupid!" she exclaimed. "Let me go. They need you there. There's so many sick people. They need your strength, your leadership. They look to you. I don't belong there anymore."

Daryl put his knees up against the dash and made to get comfortable. He was relieved to see she'd taken her hand off the ignition.

"All those people, huh? All those Woodbury people?" Daryl answered casually.

Carol turned to him confused.

"What do you mean?"

"Those Woodbury people who stood around cheering while Merle beat lumps outta me and walkers bit at our heels? Those Woodbury people that Rick and Maggie and Oscar and me shot at and killed? There's people in those cells right now that lost their kin that day. They were just people protecting what they had, what they knew as home and defending it from a threat and they lost their lives at our hands; at my hands. They ain't bitchin' and whinin' they don't belong. And I ain't spitting in their stew every day. We all do what we gotta do to get through the day, and we all gotta put it behind us. And next day we get up new and we start again."

Carol didn't answer. She started ahead silently, her hands resting on the steering wheel lightly.

"I went too far. I thought I was doing what was best, but in that minute I stopped caring. I stopped caring that it was Karen that would joke with me about Tyresse's singing, while we cooked, or David who liked to tell me crummy jokes in the halls. What if it had been Carl or Glenn or you that was sick? Would I have done it then? How could I live with myself?"

Her voice was wavering and unsure. Daryl wished for the angry assertive Carol who had defended her actions. He wanted her to stand her ground again; fight for this; but he knew she'd done that for him. She'd fought to make him understand, and now; now was when she doubted herself. It was what they did. He cared most that she understood him, and he realised she felt the same. And only with her would he let her see the side of him he tried to hide, the scared, unsure self he hated.

For so long that was all anyone saw of Carol; a timid mouse who didn't know her mind, but he knew better. He knew she was more than that. He knew how strong she was. And that was the face she kept up for everyone at the prison now – warm, generous but strong. He liked that she still came to him when the façade slipped, but he didn't like it now. He needed fighter Carol back.

As the silence fell in the car again when he failed to give her an answer, Daryl remembered the stone in his pocket. He fished it out and rolled it in his hand.

After a moment, he nudged Carol's hand that was still resting on the wheel. He shyly pulled her fingers from the wheel and placed the stone into her palm, while he felt her eyes on him.

"It's a jasper stone," he said as Carol inspected it, holding it up to the fading light. "Mrs Richards asked me to look out for one, she wants it to mark her old man's grave."

Carol said nothing but rubbed her fingers over it the same way he had.

"It's meant to bring peaceful sleeps and good dreams. An' she said it represents balance, and that was what her husband was for her. She was always stressin' and worryin' and he'd tell her it's all be all right, but he had a temper shorter than her skirt and she'd be the one calmin' him down. They balanced each other; stopped each other being their worst."

Carol nodded at Daryl's story.

"That's what marriage should be," Carol said quietly, still inspecting the stone.

"You know, Rick only took on Merle 'cos he was my brother. He told me flat out, he's my responsibility. If he puts a hair wrong, it's on me."

Carol turned to him now, seeming to sense where his train of thought was going.

"I did it for Merle, he's family, I loved him. I'd do it for you."

Daryl looked at his dirty shoes pressing against the dash. He was afraid to look at her, afraid he'd put his foot in it. Then he felt Carol's hand nudging against his arm.

"I can't ask you to do that for me…" She was trying to give him the stone back.

He pulled his arm away from her, sharply.

"You ain't askin', I'm tellin'" he grumbled.

She laid her hand on his arm. He could feel the warmth through the leather.

"I told you, it's my responsibility. If I deal with it, I deal with it myself. I don't know that Tyresse would kill a woman, but he sure as hell'd kill you."

Daryl shrugged in response.

"Let him try. I ain't saying I'm your pardoner, that ain't down to me. I'm just sayin' … I'm your jasper. You start heading to crazy town, I'm gonna pull your ass back. You done it for me enough."

Carol smiled at that and rubbed his arm gently before removing her hand. Daryl could sense he was winning.

"So, what do we do? Go back and I say my Hail Rick's and everything's okay?" She was still smiling at him.

"Naw. There's enough shit hitting the fan back there, people are gonna be distracted. We do what we do. They'll respect that. Rick'll respect it eventually. He'll just take some time. Meantime, I'm your jailer, and if you try to run or take out that knife again, I'll put a bolt in your ass mysel'"

Carol suddenly looked more hopeful than he'd seen her in days. She looked around the car.

"We could do a lot of good back there. I can help Hershel, do whatever needs to be done. Or just sit in a locked cell, as long as I get to be with Lizzie and Mika."

Daryl gave her a half smile back. She noticed it, and he blushed a little. Carol put her hands back into the driving position, and sat herself upright into the seat again, ready to go.

"Whatever happens, it's worth it. As long as I've got my girls," she said resolutely.

Daryl nodded and pulled himself into a more upright position.

"As long as I've got my jasper," Carol continued, not looking at him, before popping the stone into her shirt pocket.

He felt such a rush of relief and a feeling of going home that he hadn't realised he'd been missing until its return. He reached over and placed his hand on top of hers on the steering wheel. He squeezed her hand gently, and he felt her hand move and squeeze his in return before she reached down to start the ignition.

If she verged too close to the edge of the road again, he'd steer her back - that's what jasper did for you.

Author's note: thank you for reading and remember, send Kirkman your therapy bills. :D