Summary: Everyone stumbles now and then. You just have to know when to get up, dust yourself off, and keep right on trying.
A/N: dedicated to rhinozilla for the idea.
Carol had Judith walking her barefoot along the cool cell block floor. The baby was excited, jabbering away as she toddled from foot to foot in her baby fashion. Carol was overjoyed and completely smitten with the baby. It gave her something to put her hope in that judith was so young and innocent and completely untouched by the ugly world they were forced to live in.
"Come on, Judith. That's it. Come with Auntie Carol." She looked up as she said the words, meeting the eyes of the one person besides Judith that filled her with excitement.
Daryl was coming down the stairs from the perch, and she gave him a big grin. "Look it, lil ass-kicer. It's Uncle Daryl..." She moved in the direction of the stairs, hoping to meet him before he managed to get to the door and out of both of their sights before they both had the chance to properly greet him for the day.
Judith squealed out. She made to pull her hand out of Carol's and made grabby hands in Daryl's direction. No one but Judith, Daryl, and Carol knew of the quiet time that Daryl spent with the baby.
Carol laughed soflty, quickening her pace a bit so not to let her fall. When the baby pulled away again, she decided to try something. She moved her hands from Judith's fingers to her hips and steadied her. She instructed Daryl softly, "Stand there at the bottom of the steps. Sit on 'em, will ya?"
Daryl gave her a quizzical look and pointed toward the door. "Carol, I ain't got time. Supposed to be out there helpin' Glenn an' Rick..." He started to protest more but one look from her, and he let out a frustrated sigh. Anyone could walk in on them at any moment, and he'd rather not be caught playing with the baby. There was work to do. "Fine. I ain't got all day..." But the fire had done gone out of his words as he sat on the third step from the floor.
Carol smirked a bit. She cleared her throat. "Alright. Hold out your hands and talk to her." She waggled her eyes a bit as she kissed the baby's chubby cheek and met his eyes.
He narrowed his eyes and sneered at her. "Carol, the hell..."
"Just do it..." She squared her shoulders and watched as Daryl did as she instructed. Her lips curled into a smile then. She watched as Daryl's hands slid out in front of him, elbows resting on his knees.
"Hey, Ass-kicker. Ass-kicker, what on earth is your crazy Auntie Carol up to this mornin', huh? Do you think we should just humor her? Huh?" He totally forgot that anyone else was around. In that moment, it was just the three of them. And they were making memories. He couldn't stop the smile that came to his eyes and face as the baby squirmed and made noises at him and jabbered away in the only way she could. He laughed then.
And then it happened. Carol let go of her tiny baby hips. She was unsteady but determined. She took a step, shaky, and fell forward onto her tiny hands. Carol didn't stop. She stood her back up, steadying her.
"Look, Carol. She's gonna get hurt..." Daryl interjected, frowning a bit.
Carol shook her head. "Keep talkin' to her." Judith wasn't phased a bit at falling. If anything, she seemed more determined to make it to her Uncle Daryl now. She took another tentative step and then another.
Daryl's eyes were focused on Judith and only Judith then. "C'mon, Ass-kicker. That's it. You're doin' it. You're gettin' it..." He was mesmerized that this little life was taking step after step to move toward him. Him. He moved down, squatting on his haunches as he held out his hands for her.
It was seconds later that Judith squealed and fell into his eagerly waiting hands. He swung her up, causing a peal of laughter and brought her in toward his chest and kissed her chubby cheeks. He hugged her tight and whispered, "That's my girl."
Carol stepped forward, laughing softly as she placed one hand on Judith's back and one on his arm. "Now we're all in trouble." She was already making plans on how to fortify the cell block so that Judith's safety was first and foremost.
Daryl met Carol's eyes then, feeling his arm burning where she was touching him. "I didn't know they walked this young..."
She shrugged her shoulders. "Sophia started about this time. Nine months..." She leaned in then and kissed Judith's cheek and moved her hand up into her hair and stroked her tiny head a little more. She met Daryl's eyes then. "Her first unaided steps right into the arms of her Uncle Daryl..."
"Stop..." he breathed, but he couldn't get the grin off his face. He narrowed his eye a bit and leaned in and kissed Carol's lips softly. It wasn't their first kiss, but it always felt like the first. Always. He cleared his throat a bit. "Take her. I gotta go."
Carol took her from his arms and settled her on her hip. Her lips still tingled. "Be careful out there."
"Always." And with that he was gone.
Carol turned her attention to Judith. "Well, I guess we all gotta take baby steps, huh, Ass-kicker?"