Disclaimer: I don't own AMC's The Walking Dead, wishful thinking aside.
Authors Note #1: This is a 'fix-it-what-Carol-was-up-to' sort of fic, meant to fix in after 4x04 – spanning into 4x05 – to whenever Carol comes back to grace our screens. This is written in response to an anon prompt in my askbox on tumblr. Honestly, I just couldn't resist.
Warnings: Contains spoilers for all four seasons of the Walking Dead, strong language, very much AU probably, angst and more.
She hadn't gone twenty miles down that back country road when the motor gave out. She'd just passed a sign, a homemade billboard of a plump woman wearing an apron - "Auntie Betty's Homemade Pastries, next left," when the engine hiccuped.
Her heart plummeted. The engine light flashed. Shit.
She didn't even bother pulling over. She rested her head against the steering wheel as the car coasted to a stop, the sudden absence of the engine lending credence to the creaks and groans as rusty hinges and ill-used metal whinged out into the quiet.
For a long moment she just sat there, one hand on the emergency brake, the other pressed up against her rib-cage – easing a throb – a hurt she hadn't felt in a long time as everything seemed to crash down on her at once.
She'd made a decision.
She drew in a deep, shuddering breath as the expression on Rick's face when they'd parted flashed in her mind's eye. There had been something different in his eyes then, something fragile, breakable.
She'd done what she had to do.
For the first time in a long time, she hadn't even recognized him.
She'd done it for them, for her family.
She wrenched back the e-brake as the thought took root. She expelled a long breath of air, wiping at a single tear that had escaped as she forced herself to look up. She'd done it for them.
Overgrown wheat fields, long since gone fallow, rippled in front of her, stretching out on both sides of the road for as far as the eye could see, caught in the light afternoon breeze. It was beautiful, in a desolate sort of way.
The fingers clenched around the steering wheel slackened, if only slightly.
She could be strong.
A play of shadows danced along the edges of her rear-view mirror. Tantalizing dips and weaves that made hope rise in her breast only to burst into flames in the next. She squinted, getting tunnel vision as she kept her eyes on the side mirror - objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear – hoping. She didn't know why she half expected to see Rick speeding down the road behind her.
Maybe he would change his mind?
She shook her head, because honestly, she knew better. He'd meant what he'd said. The only question was who those words were truly meant for? Him? Or her? Maybe he was projecting. Maybe this was just the consequences of her actions. The price you ended up paying when you found yourself in a situation, caught between a rock and a hard place, leaving you with nothing but uncertainty – nothing but the realization that you had a decision to make.
She expelled a long, pent-up breath, watching as the golden-brown wheat, long gone to seed, curled lazily in the breeze, swaying back and forth like a vast yellow sea. The fields on either side of her were overgrown to the point where, if she rolled down her window and stretched, she'd probably be able to touch them.
She didn't regret what she'd done.
She only regretted that she'd had to do it in the first place.
The conviction behind the thought was comforting, a poor substitute for the sight of familiar faces and the company of friends, but the surety behind it, the realization that she knew her own mind, was enough to strengthen her. It was enough to fuel her movements as she gathered her things and wrenched herself out of the front seat.
It was time to go.
She double checked her gun and spare clip, counting under her breath as she reaffirmed what she already knew. She popped the trunk and rummaged through it, lifting the spare tire for good measure as her fingers ran along the edges, rifling through every crevice, every hollow as she took stock of her options. She felt something settle inside as she palmed a crowbar. She had to conserve her ammo. A crowbar and a tire iron seemed a good enough place to start.
She could hear Daryl's voice in the back of her head as she stuffed the tire-iron into her already bulging pack. Snatches of conversation only half remembered from the winter before last, before the prison, back when Lori and T-dog had still been alive. Back when Rick had still been whole.
She forgot how the conversation had started, but she did remember the autumn chill. The way the flames from their campfire reflected off the colored metal and corroded logos of a bunch of construction equipment, mostly bob-cats and front loaders; a construction site they'd decided to make camp in. The place had a small perimeter fence secured by a dinky little padlock and a thin iron chain. It wasn't much, but it was protection enough, at least for the night.
'At the end of the day the number of bullets you got don't matter,' Daryl muttered, stabbing at the fire with the end of a metal rod, the metallic tang almost muted by the crackling flames as the evening meal, a thin soup that was more water and canned chickpeas than anything else, was passed around.
'You can't rely on bullets. You gotta have a back-up. Anyone can wield a shovel, a crowbar, a piece of pipe,' he grunted.
'I agree,' Rick replied, rousing himself from his thoughts as Lori's back straightened on the other side of the fire. She was already starting to show, her loose shirts now tight around the mid-section. Rick barely spoke to her, Carl too. She'd never seen the woman so miserable.
'Starting tomorrow we will begin training on knives. It isn't much, but it's a start,' Rick affirmed, crouching down on his haunches as Carl's hat bobbled from his place beside him, parroting agreement.
Daryl had just nodded, an awkward dip of his head from across the flames as the others murmured quietly, hunkering down as the bitter wind howled across the open field.
The next day, Daryl replaced her small multi-tool, a Swiss Army style knockoff she'd only really used for the can opener, with a vicious looking switch blade. And more than anything, she remembered the play of muscles that tensed and released down his chest, trickling down his forearms to tighten in the small of his back when he'd shown her how to sharpen it.
If he'd noticed her distraction, he hadn't said a word. If anything though, when she'd asked him to show her again, his expression had only softened.
She shook herself out of her head as the wind suddenly picked up, bringing her back to the present as a chill trickled down her spine. The weather was changing. She shouldered her pack, forcing herself to focus.
She had to find shelter, something that would hold up overnight. Everything else could wait.
She had to get moving.
But just before she jumped the ditch, pushing her way into the sea of overgrown wheat, she paused, one hand shading her eyes as she looked back the way she'd came. She let her eyes fix on that distant point on the horizon; the one where she figured the prison would be if you could place it on a map or point it out in relation to the position of the sun.
A lump rose in the back of her throat.
This was going to be hard on Daryl.
A/N #1: Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think! Reviews and constructive critiquing are love! – There will be more chapters to come.