He strode down the hall and out through the side door, breathing a sigh of relief when he saw her in the outdoor kitchen. She was sitting at a picnic table with Beth, the two women were laughing as Beth wrote something down in a book.
He cocked his head to the side, watching for a moment as Carol bounced Judith on her knee, smiling from ear to ear as she said something to her friend that made the girl giggle behind her hand.
Daryl made his way over to them, shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand. "Hay," he greeted.
Carol's warm smile grew when she saw him. "Hey. What are you still doing here? I thought you'd have left for your run by now."
He frowned. "Can I talk to ya for a minut?"
She nodded, looking to Beth who cocked an eyebrow at her and held her hands out to accept the baby. She followed him off to the side of the building. "What's the matter?"
"Michonne ain't here," he started and she would've tensed if it wasn't for his casual shrug. "I need a partner."
Carol bit her lip, recalling the last time she'd gone on a run alone with Daryl.
He tapped her chin up. "Hay. I trust ya."
She nodded. "Alright. Let me just move some things around. Meet you at the car?"
He grunted in response.
"Should we go over some ground rules?" She asked, half-teasingly to lighten the mood once they were in the car.
"Just one," He said, glancing at her. "Don't get bit."
He pulled onto a residential street, parked at the curb and nodded to a particular house. "Last run was productive on this block. That's the only one we didn't get to."
She nodded. "You searched every house on this block except one?"
"Not all at once. Rick's rules. Gotta be drivin' back before dark."
She tugged her bag over her shoulder. "Let's go."
"Got your knife?"
She patted her holster at her hip.
"Where's your gun?"
She grinned. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
His rolled his eyes. "C'mon." He leapt up the three wooden steps to the deck, pushed lightly against the door to find it unlocked.
She followed close behind and they stopped to listen for a moment.
The low drone that started once they stepped into the hall alerted them to the fact that there were indeed walkers in the house and she grabbed her knife.
One by one they stepped into the hall like a welcoming committee, at least three that she could tell. She plunged her knife into a skull, turned around to find that Daryl had already shot one and was closing in on his second.
It was quiet after that, and he nodded her on.
She paused in front of the hall closet, figuring there might be something useful in there.
Daryl gestured silently to the kitchen before making his way forward.
That's when she saw them.
They came from down the stairs and behind the staircase, apparently attracted by all the commotion. She barely had enough time to calculate how many steps it would be to the door from where she was standing and whether or not she should scream to alert Daryl before something heavy pushed against her and shoved her in the closet, pulling the door closed behind them.
She whimpered in fear.
"Ssh," he hissed, trying to listen to what was happening on the other side of the door. "Didn't get a chance to count how many. Just sit tight a second til I think of somethin."
"No," she said, fumbling around to try for the doorknob. "No, please, I can't stay in here!" Her breathing was starting to come in fast gasps.
He cursed out loud, he had forgotten she was claustrophobic.
"It's alright," He murmured soothingly. "I'm right here with ya."
"I can't see you, it's dark!" She snapped.
"Easy," he said, reaching to close his hands firmly around her upper arms. "I got ya. You can feel me, right? Jus hold onta me."
"We're going to die in here."
"No, we ain't. Just try to relax. Won't be able to take 'em if they're pilin' up against the door. Gotta wait it out a bit."
She groaned softly as the air closed in on her. "Can't b-breathe,"she stuttered.
"Yes, you can," he insisted. "Breathe with me. Real deep. In and out. You're alright."
She took a couple of deep gulps of air.
"Good girl," he murmured. "Keep goin."
"I feel dizzy," she said, grabbing him harder to steady herself.
He lowered his arms to wrap around her waist, pulling her into his body. "This make it worse?"
She shook her head.
He gently stroked her hair. "You're alright," he repeated.
"There's- there's a game we all used to play as teenagers," she managed once the world had stopped spinning.
"Oh yeah? What's that?" He asked.
"Seven minutes in heaven," she replied.
He chuckled softly.
"You know it?"
"Yeah. Merle used ta say some stories. I bet most of 'em were exaggerated though."
She managed a tiny laugh. "Think we've been in here seven minutes already?"
"Nah." He shook his head. "I don't think we even been here one minut, baby."
"Oh," she said softly and his heart nearly broke at the disappointment in her voice.
"It's alright," he said, tightening his hold on her. "Won't be too much longer. You're doin' jus fine."
She rested her head against his chest.
"Alright," he said after awhile. "I'ma go out there, slowly. You stay in here and you don't move til I say so, ya hear?"
"No!" she said, feeling the panic rise through her stomach again. "You can't leave me here!"
"Sssh," he soothed.
"Besides, you can't clear all of them by yourself."
"Honey, you're in no shape to be fightin for yer life or mine. Just sit right here on the floor. I'll come back for ya soon as it's safe."
She shook her head furiously. "I'm not staying in here. You can go out first. I'll watch your back."
He sighed. "Fine. Just remember the ground rules," he muttered.
She nodded. "I'm okay."
"Got your knife?"
She held it out to him.
"Where's your gun?"
She smiled. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
He shook his head. "You're okay. C'mon."
He pushed open the door and they rushed out, her arm raised high with knife in hand to cover him as he kicked at the dead bodies to clear some room for them to move.
He pulled the trigger on his crossbow and she heard the sickening crunch of the arrow taking its target as she jammed her blade into a walker's head.
He threw his own knife at another before pulling the arrow free from the first one, whirling around to face her and mouth quirking up when he realized that she'd finished off the last walker.
"Think there's anymore?" She asked, returning her knife to the holster at her hip.
He shrugged. "Don't think so. Best pay attention, just in case." He nodded again towards the kitchen.
"I'll check the bedrooms upstairs," she said.
His head snapped up.
"It's fine," she insisted. "I can handle it."
"You holler if you see anythin."
He watched her as she took the steps two at a time until he couldn't see her anymore before trudging over the bodies into the kitchen.
The next few minutes were spent shoveling canned food into his pack, while his heart thumped loudly in his ears over what Carol was doing upstairs. He could hear her steps on the creaking floorboards and he listened closely to see if there were anyone else's.
Once his bag was full, he struggled to get the zipper shut before hastily making his way back to the hall, ready to yell for her.
She descended down the stairs, jumped over a walker and landed right in front of him.
"You find anything?" He asked, trying to calm his racing heart.
She nodded. "Some blankets and sweaters, a few medical supplies. You were right, this was worth it."
He gestured towards the door. "C'mon. Best get back."
She grinned. "Or… we could go back in the closet and make out…."
"Funny." He hoisted his bag onto his shoulder, then turned around. "You come back with me now, before the others finish their chores, and I'll give ya a helluva lot more than seven minutes."
Her eyes widened for a moment before she made a beeline for the exit, flying across the lawn and shoving her things in the trunk before he could even get his key in the ignition.