Chapter Twenty-Two

She knew it was a special day when she'd entered her bedroom and found a pretty springtime dress splayed out on their bed. It was a shade of blue as deep as her eyes, casual and floaty and Carol felt beautiful the second she pulled it over her head. She had no shoes to match such a scrap of delight, so she shed her boots and went barefoot, and every step she took through the house had a spring in it as her smile grew and grew.

Mika and Lizzie were waiting for her at the front door of the huge house, Lizzie holding a picnic basket and Mika holding Beau, and both girls wore pretty dresses, too. Mika wore green of the meadows and Lizzie was looking young and angelic in the loveliest shade of pink Carol thought she'd ever seen, and she sighed, trying desperately to blink the tears that were threatening to take her over.

Daryl bounded up the stairs of the house toward them and Carol sucked in a breath. He'd cleaned up, too, his skin shining, his facial hair trimmed and his hair was shorter than it had been that morning at breakfast. If that wasn't enough, the crisp white button down he was wearing took Carol's breath away and she found she couldn't stop staring at him, knowing without a shadow of a doubt now that this day was meant to mean something. She didn't wonder if she might have forgotten some special moment from their past; if she had, Daryl would remind her, but if she hadn't, the fun was yet to come.

He stepped forward, directing the girls to a spot to the side of the yard, near a copse of trees and a long way in from the wall. Carol watched as they carried their precious cargo down the stairs, her heart in her throat watching Mika take Beau further away from her than he'd been his entire short life, but before she could feel too anxious, Daryl stepped forward and took her hand, his thumb gently rubbing across her knuckles before firming his grip and tugging her gently forward. She could feel his eyes on her the whole walk across the yard, but she was seduced by the feel of lush grass between her toes. The whole experience was like a miracle, and it was all she could do not to spoil it with fears that all too soon the joy of being free, of being safe would be smashed and shattered. Today obviously didn't deserve those kinds of thoughts, and so one look at Daryl banished them clean away.

The girls had spread out the blanket by the time they got there, Beau lying in the middle on his back, kicking his feet into the air and wiggling around like a rolled turtle. His body was twisting back and forth, a serious look of concentration on his face as he tried to push all his momentum to one side. Carol laughed when he gave up and rocked once again to his back, though she knew it wouldn't be too long and they'd have a roller on their hands.

She barely tasted the food but after they ate, she lay down next to her son, playing with his little fingers and toes, trying to entice a smile from him and laughing with Lizzie and Mika while they resorted to chasing a butterfly that had flapped its way into their time together. There was no way she could really stop the tears as they fell, the happiness exploding in her chest with so much force that it was a miracle she didn't frighten them all with the depth of it. Daryl understood, though. He lay beside them, the other side of Beau, and like the practised daddy he was becoming, he effortlessly flipped his son over so that Beau could stare forward along the blanket in search of interesting and fun things to slobber upon. Daryl watched him for a moment, transfixed ad proud, and then his gaze switched to Carol and stayed there, his head propped up on his hand. With his free hand he reached over Beau's back to swipe away the salty tears that escaped her eyes and his own smile became suspiciously watery.

"You ever imagine anything like this?"

The low, soothing texture of his voice hypnotised her and she almost didn't comprehend what he'd said, but then she shook her head. She'd never shared a moment like this with Ed and Sophia, and once they were gone, she was left with an often defensive and sensitive redneck that would have frowned on something like being barefoot and carefree when walkers wandered just beyond their fences. He'd never have trusted the sanctity of their home to be so free, to even let himself relax as much as he had right now. And, there was Beau. She'd thought children for her was an experience left in her past, and she'd been proven wrong—first with the girls being thrust into her care, and then with her quiet love producing the greatest gift of all.

"No." It seemed inadequate to admit she'd never thought of something so good happening to her in this world. She needed him to know why. "I never had the courage to imagine something so wonderful happening in my life as you and our children."

The acknowledgement acted like a massive relief, a huge weight shifting off her chest, one that had caused her to feel like she was being crushed by the not-so-simple act of living from as far back as when Sophia died. She'd lost one child but there was no way she'd be losing these three. Daryl ducked his head and she caught the tail end of a secretive, pleased smile like the ones he'd always tried to hide from her at the prison. It made him appear so young, so innocent and it opened her heart to a higher potential than she'd ever dreamed of. Every time she wondered if the feelings she held for Daryl were true, he'd do something like smile in a way that implied he really hadn't meant to, and she knew. She loved him so thoroughly it broke her every time she remembered what it had been like to exist without him and she bit her tongue, so afraid of having to survive like that again. He glanced up and caught her watching him, and as he stared right back at her, Carol wondered if it was possible for your blood to run so hot it began to melt your skin.

An enraptured squeal broke through her haze and she dropped her eyes out of their mutual gaze, a flush warming her skin. She sat up as the girls rushed to show her the butterfly that was perched carefully on one of Mika's dainty, outstretched fingers as Lizzie leaned over her sister to count the blotches of colour on the its delicate wings. Carol stood up to study the prize with them both and she felt the presence of Sophia at her side, relishing the memories and the experiences yet to come.

"Isn't it beautiful, mom?" Lizzie said, then stopped and took a step back, watching Carol with a twinge of fear in her wide, innocent eyes. Carol instantly felt ashamed of how she'd reacted once to the girl, berating her for using the term. The momentous action she was about to make caused her limbs to tremble but Carol pushed past it, not letting her own fears and hang ups stop her from doing what was right. These girls were her responsibility now—for better or for worse. She had to offer them more than the roof over their heads and the fences that kept them safe, the food that kept them from going hungry and the blankets that kept the chill from their bones. They were her daughters now, and she was their mom. Whether it was through unexpected circumstances or not, it was meant to be.

"It's okay, Lizzie. You can call me mom. I'm trying to be one, so you may as well call me what you're most comfortable with."

Both girls lit up with an inner glow, smiles of wonder and pure happiness distracting them from the beauty of their catch and the butterfly suddenly flapped its wings and rose between the three of them, finding a breeze and running with it. They tracked its journey through the air, watched as it climbed a bit in height, then almost glided into some bushes enough distance away that it would get a good head start should the girls chase it down again.

"Hey, ya'll. You about ready for me to take Beau inside?" Maggie stood before them, hands on her hips, an amused look on her face.

Carol furrowed a brow in confusion at Maggie's unexpected appearance, looking even more wary as Daryl stood and passed their baby to the brunette as easily as if it had all been planned well in advance.

"Goodness, where did you pop up from?" she asked, frowning a little as Maggie threw an amused glance at Daryl and answered Carol with nothing more than a shrug. Without another word, and as beautifully seamless as the most famous of symphonies, Lizzie, Mika and Maggie all headed back to the house, leaving Carol alone with Daryl. She swivelled quickly to see him packing up the blanket and basket, leaving them to be collected later, presumably, when they got back from wherever he planned for them to go. He paused, went back for the blanket, then took her hand and led her away from the basket, dragging her to the back of the property with a haste that confused her. They had all the time left in the world now to meander around this place; there was no reason left to rush through.

He took her almost as far as the trees, but then he skirted around the woods and by the time he stopped before a copse of trees, watching her silently but with great promise in his eyes, she was panting from exertion.

"Daryl, I'm not wearing shoes." This seemed vital to point out as their path became rougher and she'd managed to flinch against more than a random rock or stick as they'd made progress through the property. He swept her up in his arms and her sense of balance teetered dangerously, leaving her clutching at his strong shoulder lest she hit the ground.

Once she was spun around, he stepped beyond the foliage that hid his surprise, and in what appeared to be part of the woods—or a man-made one at least—there lay an oasis she'd never in her wildest dreams have been able to imagine being as perfect as it was. It was smaller than Hershel's lake, more of a feature than a natural occurrence, but Carol didn't care, sliding from Daryl's arms to run to the water and dip in a toe.

"Ooh," she moaned. "It's warm."

"It ain't cold," Daryl agreed, his eyes sparkling as he joined her, his arms sneaking around her middle and drawing her back against him. "The others that know about this place are gonna keep their distance for today. Thought maybe we could swim." He dropped his head to her shoulder and she could feel the heated blush he was trying to hide. Carol grinned, getting the picture in an instant, delighted that a grown man she shared a child with could still be bashful about swimming nude with her.

"So, you found this pretty dress for me just so you could get me out of it?" she asked, trying to look innocent but failing because suddenly she was fighting a flush of her own, picturing his body naked and beautiful and responsive to her lightest touch. Failing to control the jumped up tempo of her heart that he might finally lift the ban he'd imposed on any intimacy between them while he perceived her body to need extended recovery time from the birth of his son and her months in isolation and self-neglect.

"No, found it for somethin' else." He glanced up and the fear emanating from him slammed into her. She held her breath, concerned about what this could mean. It had been a long time since he'd been afraid in her presence, and anytime she caught glimpses it was in relation to Beau. Around her his confidence had only grown and she'd fallen even deeper head over heels for him. She didn't think there was any way of reversing it, her heart clinging to him so desperately that some nights she lay awake just watching him sleep beside her, her fingers itching to touch, to peel away the layers so she could know everything that was within. She'd respected his wish for distance, however, but her body ached to know what he would feel like against her, inside her.

He took a deep breath, staring at his boots before finally glancing up. Right before her eyes Carol saw the layers of protection drop and she started to shake. This was it—whatever it was—and she wasn't so certain she was as ready as she'd convinced herself all along. He was terrifying her, making her wonder what she'd have to lose to give him what he asked for, but as his voice rumbled into the air around her, she relaxed. She was being foolish; she'd given every part of herself to him in a prison cell cot a year ago and she'd never been the same since.

"That night," he began, and Carol dug in, knowing this was going to be something bigger and heavier than she'd suspected with donning the pretty blue dress and walking barefoot to a family picnic. "That night I wanted to tell you how I felt about you. Wanted to ask you if you'd be mine. Not just my friend…my partner." He scanned her face and she tried to offer all the encouragement she was able with a smile but she wasn't quite skilled enough to stop her body from quivering, knowing they were on an unexplored sharp edge and the only option was to jump off.

"I'd have said yes," she gasped out, needing him to know that more than anything. She'd loved him for such a long time; she loved him even more now. The air around them was thick with tension. He nodded, acknowledging her enthusiasm, and then he smirked.

"I was a chicken shit later," he admitted, shoving his hands in his pockets and stretching his pants across his crotch. Carol tried to not look, but unconsciously she licked her lips and then blushed when he noticed and grinned. "Shouldn'ta needed to get piss drunk to tell you I loved you." He shook his head and chuckled but her heart sank.

"Loved?"

His head shot up with fear blazing across it. He threw himself across the gap between them and slid both of his work roughened hands around her head, his lips connecting with a force that almost chipped teeth. He took it down a notch as soon as he recognised her willingness, and the kiss slowed to a sensual tease that caused her knees to wobble weakly. She clung to him, fingers grasping fistfuls of his shirt and she sighed into him more, opening her mouth and flushing hot when his tongue poked inside. She did go weak then, sagging against him, but he held her up, diving deep into her mouth to suck in all her secrets. The freedom between them was momentous—he'd kissed her regularly since he'd found her, but not like this. Not with such abandon that she wondered if she'd live through to the end of it or die from happiness before it could end. He sucked her bottom lip into his mouth and licked it, letting it go so slowly she moaned.

"Love," he croaked out between more kisses that drugged her senses and left her mindless. "I love you. Have for a long time."

There was no sweeter declaration than this and she cried ecstatic tears as she tried to bring him back, not done at all with the intimacy. "Me too," she sniffled, and then whimpered when he caught the hands that were trying to drag his lips back to hers and brought them down to her sides.

"Settle down,' he chastised with a soft, indulgent grin. "I ain't even close to bein' finished with this speech yet."

"A speech? That's pretty risky for a guy that talks in grunts and barked orders," she teased and he leaned down and growled in her ear.

"Watch it or I'mma make you walk home on your own."

She nodded, making the sign of a cross over her heart. "I'll be good," she said, eyes glinting with humour. "I promise."

"That's more like it." He dipped his head in approval, then reached out for both of her hands. She raised a brow in question as he ran his thumbs over her knuckles, trying to hide the fact that his hands were shaking. "When we went out lookin' for those meds, the ones Hershel wanted? I found something."

Carol waited him out. Only someone completely blind to people's emotions would miss that whatever it was he'd found, it had affected him deeply. When he looked up she was quickly lost in the swirling depths of emotions he was unable to hide and he blinked rapidly, exposing the extremity of how he felt right at this moment. She waited but when the silence drew out too long for her to wait patiently, the instinct to explode was too strong for her to deny.

"Daryl, what did you find?"

He chuckled, confusing her. How could something be so funny yet so hard to say?

"I found my balls. Lost 'em again soon after, but for that moment, I found 'em and they were hidin' in a shiny rock." He stared at her with expectation and Carol fidgeted, her fingers flexing within his. She didn't know what this riddle was supposed to mean and her mind had gone blank of sexy innuendos to throw back at him.

She tightened her fingers around his. "I'm not sure I understand what this is about," she admitted with a quiet, emotion-clogged voice just barely squeaking past the growing lump in her throat.

He let go of her hand and fumbled awkwardly in the pocket of his pants. He kept his fist closed but she saw the hint of a silver chain poking beyond and her heart started thumping erratically. Jewellery was always special, a declaration of some kind of intent, and with this unconventional world as it was and Daryl the kind of man he was, she was completely in the dark about what to expect when he unfurled his fist.

"I made a decision, when I was out there. Found this chunk of rock—Jasper—an' I knew."

Her breath quickened and her whole body flushed hot. "What did you know?" She pressed her lips together, holding her breath in until it hurt for as long as he made her wait. Tears were stinging her eyes by the time he flicked his own up to meet them and she found his shining, too.

"I knew it was time to nut up an' ask you to be mine. Carol?"

She nodded, too afraid to speak in case it shattered this spell his husky voice created.

"We ain't got no church, an' I ain't got no rings—dangerous fuckers, anyway, if you ask me. I've got shit all to offer you an' Beau an' the girls, but…" He reached for her hand and placed his surprise against her palm, his fist still closed around it. "I don't want to be alone no more. I want us to be a family for as long as we've got left. I wanna show you every day how I feel about you. Would you—" His voice cracked and he cleared it violently, his big, strong hands starting to shake in hers. Her eyes were wide, so hopeful, so loving and she was glad he was holding her hands because she'd be wringing them with nerves if he wasn't.

"Are you asking me to marry you?" she gasped out. If he wasn't she'd feel like such a fool, but she couldn't wait forever for him to get up the nerve to spit it out. She was choking on her held breath and her body was trembling.

"Would you maybe want to? I mean, I know I ain't—"

He had no chance of finishing as she threw herself into his arms, crying into his neck as she shook uncontrollably. "You're everything." She laid a trail of kisses along his throat and jaw, burning up with love and lust and more happiness than she'd thought she could ever feel again, more happiness than her body could contain. "I do want to. Yes." She kissed his lips hungrily, tasting tears as they caught on their lips and when she had the presence of mind to let him recover from the ordeal of not quite asking the question, she found tears tracked his face, too.

"You're my best friend." Carol laughed through her tears, her hands on his neck, sliding to his chest to cover his heart. "I want to be your friend, your lover. I want to be your wife, Daryl. I want us to be a family." She choked then, all the feelings she'd had locked away while she was protecting her unborn child swirling up and clashing with the new ones she'd developed with watching him interact with his son. He'd always been so much more than he'd known, and now he'd proven it to them all. He was hers, and he had been for a long while, but now everyone would know it. Now he would know it.

He drew back from her, his expression woven into a tapestry of awe and panic. He held out the fist holding the gift and with a long, painful-sounding indrawn breath, his fingers opened like a flower, revealing the surprise within. He rushed into the explanation before she could even reach out her hand to touch it, the words racing right over the top of her pounding heart as he revealed his efforts. Lizzie had found a book in one of the rooms in the house that they decided must have been a hobby room as it was filled with all sorts of craft items. Between the three of them, Mika turning out to be the most gifted in crafts, they'd worked out the finer talent of winding wire into decorative shapes. Once on his own, he fashioned a wire cage for the piece of jasper and held onto its secret until now, when he was presenting it to her with his heart.

Carol tentatively poked a finger out to touch it, almost afraid it would break the magic surrounding the moment but as soon as the pad of her finger made contact with the stone behind the decorative wire cage, she gasped as if shocked. It was real, this declaration was real and all those months she'd carried his child thinking he'd been in love with another woman faded away to nothing. They'd both been stupid and wasted so much time, but be damned if she was going to waste anymore.

She looked up from her preoccupied admiration of the gift and clashed with a stare so hot and intense that she felt months of unrestrained lust blindside her. His rough knuckles brushed against her throat as he fumbled awkwardly with the clasp of the silver chain, and then it was secured around her neck, the links so long that the pendent sat perfectly between her breasts. Carol caught one of his hands and pressed it against her heart, her breath hitched in her throat as her brain scrambled to find the words to express exactly what she felt. She swallowed hard as tears rushed upon her, thoughts and memories crashing together with a swiftness she couldn't control. He needed to know everything, yet there was nothing left to share. He'd been a part of her for so long she didn't know where the lines were drawn anymore.

"Daryl, you proved to me a long time ago what kind of man you are. You're the kind of man who looks for lost little girls even when there's no hope they can be found. You felt pain for not being fast enough to save her for me, even though she wasn't yours—wasn't anything to you. Right then I knew you'd be a wonderful father, a loving one and an amazing man and I am so honoured you want me to be your wife." She burst into tears, spacing out her breaths, desperately seeking control. "She's not here anymore but Sophia's part of this family, and she would have loved you just as much as I love you. So, if these are our wedding vows, I do. I do take you for my husband and I will have you and hold you in sickness and in health, for all the days of my life." The last words were crushed beneath an avalanche of emotion she just couldn't get under wraps no matter the struggle and it didn't matter anyway because he was crushing her to his chest and crying with her, quietly so she only knew by the way his body shuddered in her arms.

They sank into time like they had all of it to spare, and eventually she realised they were swaying to some soft song neither of them heard but sensed anyway. Daryl slowly let her go, let her drift away from him but kept one hand on her hip like he needed to keep touching her for his own peace of mind. She could see the devastation of his face, saw that he was still struggling against his feelings as he swiped repetitively at his eyes and his nose, snuffling and shaking his head like he couldn't believe it.

"Can't believe I'm cryin' like a girl," he spat, self-disgust swallowed up by the bemused chuckle that escaped amidst the turmoil.

"Boys can cry too, tough guy," Carol said, pouting, trying to wipe dry her own shining face.

He sucked in a great, shuddering breath and took a step nearer to her again, both hands on her hips now as he pulled her so close her breasts warmed to the heat of his chest.

"I thought I lost you." His eyes were filled with so much pain that her heart broke for all those months apart they'd both suffered, a time when they'd desperately tried to live with the likelihood of never seeing each other again.

"I know." She smiled through a fresh sheen of tears and lifted her hand to his cheek.

"Don't ever wanna feel like that again, like someone cut my heart out of my chest and filled it with nothing. Just nothing. You were gone an' all I could do was put one foot in front've the other, hopin' I could keep the rest of them alive. Every night prayin' that if you were alive, you weren't hurt somewhere, or bein' tortured or some other fucked up thing assholes are out there are doin' to women on their own. Tryin' to control the urge to kill Rick."

She smirked at that, knowing how strong that urge had been for her, especially when she'd realised she was stuck out on her own with a baby growing inside of her.

"You won't have to feel like that anymore. I'm your wife now, Daryl. I'm here to stay." She ran her hand down from his cheek down his neck, welcoming the surge of tingling awareness that was now allowed free reign, at least, she hoped.

"I love you." The words were simple, precise, direct and he stared into her soul while he uttered them, leaving no doubt at all that he meant them from the deepest part of him.

"Oh," she sighed, fighting a losing battle against the onslaught of tears. She was giving up. What was the point of trying not to cry when the moment was so beautiful that she was filled entirely with so much joy that she was unable to contain it? "And I love you. Are we going to consummate this thing? It's not real unless you make love to me," she sassed, even though she was terrified they would never get to that point with how Daryl had left her completely alone for two months since they'd been at the house.

He was done with words, apparently. He swooped down and took her lips in a scorching kiss. There was no gentleness now, just a wordless confirmation that his patience had ended and he had every intention of making her his in every sense of the word. He broke away suddenly, leaving her dizzy and flailing as he snatched up the blanket they'd brought from their picnic and shook it out over the grass beside the water.

"This here is our marriage blanket. Maggie, Tara an' Michonne made it—said something about tradition an' babies an' shit. It was a lotta woman talk. You can ask 'em about it later." She opened her mouth to ask one tiny question, but the intention disappeared when his hands fisted the hem of her dress and he whipped it over her head. She was momentarily disorientated by the pace he was setting, worried that he was going to rush their real first time—the first time they'd both remember—but once the dress was pooled on the ground, he stood still, staring at her body with his face wiped clear of all his usual expressions. This look was different—a face she'd never seen on him before as his eyes swept so slowly up her form that she was burning with arousal by the time he reached her eyes. "Fuck, you're beautiful."

Her breasts were still swollen from breastfeeding but her shape had almost returned to normal, her belly not quite as flat as it once had been and she was a little embarrassed at that. She tried to be inconspicuous by holding her hands across her tummy, but he stepped forward and swept them away, dropping to his knees and planting his face right against the soft swell and the pink tracks of her stretchmarks.

"Don't be ashamed of carrying our boy," he breathed into her belly and her knees wobbled.

"I'm not," she refuted. "Can't blame me for wishing you remembered the first time, though. I was a lot more toned then."

"Don't care how you was before, you're perfect now." And to prove it he brought his tongue out to play and he followed some of those marks, breathing heavier and heavier as he licked his way right up to her breasts. His hands swept up her ribs to cup both of them, testing the increased weight and releasing a whimper before he dived in and sucked and lavished her with wet kisses. His worship was frenzied as he took just enough time to lay her back on the blanket meant to signify how special the day was, and he explored her thoroughly with his tongue. When he removed her panties she was expecting an end to his oral play, but again he shocked her and she felt the intense pleasure of being brought to breaking point with his mouth feasting between her legs.

She came undone twice before he shed his clothes, standing while she panted on the blanket and unabashedly watched him. He was shy, moving slow as he shucked off the white shirt and he showed surprising care by putting it on top of her dress to minimise grass stains. He chuckled nervously as he lost his pants, his cock rock hard and weeping and she reached for it as soon as he kneeled by her again, eagerly moulding her fingers around his girth and running her fist up and down his length. His moans of pleasure were the kind of music she'd fantasised to for too long, and she admitted to him softly that she wasn't just experiencing those fantasies at last but that she was relieving the torture of sleeping beside him every night for two months without one touch from him that could be construed as sensual. He kissed her, told her she could hold him for as long as she wanted as long as she was happy enough to wait for him to be hard again, and she decided in that second it could wait. She'd explore him as thoroughly as he had her later, when they'd fostered familiarity and comfort. For now, she needed to feel him penetrate her, stretch her wide open and expose her to his natural rhythm. To finally make her his.

She was wet and clenching when she brought the tip of his cock to run along her slit. He groaned into her neck and ran his hand along her thigh, trying to hold steady and not end it all before they could start. When the head of his cock delved just past her lips, she tensed, gasping at this small hint of the pleasure about to come. He teased her by entering her slowly, one inch at a time and she felt every wonderful movement until at last he was seated completely inside her. Neither of them moved at first, staring at one another with amazement until he delved forward into her mouth and sucked and nibbled on her lips.

He drew his hips back and she sighed as that delicious trip began, that sense of being filled to capacity over and over again, and as he sped up there was a new sensation starting to build, and long before it reached the ultimate point, she was humming, twisting and writhing beneath his body. A twisted nipple made her cry out, a deeper thrust had her thrashing and begging for completion and then he settled into a steady process, thrusting in and out. Heat flashed through her, her skin tightening, her nipples drawing into tight buds urgently needing relief, and then her body buzzed while it sought something momentous. When she finally clawed through the mountain of pleasure to find ecstasy, his hips pistons that enslaved her, she cried out so loud birds startled out of the trees nearby and flew to someplace a little less disruptive. Daryl was grunting wildly in her ear, whining a little and then he froze and pushed into her sharply, spilling his hot seed inside her and the rush of love she felt was all-consuming.

His heart was racing against her own when he collapsed on top of her, spent and weak. She held him tight, not wanting him to go anywhere else but where he was, and she closed her eyes, exhausted. He kissed her shoulder and chest sloppily while he succumbed to his own fatigue. They fell asleep naked and in each other's arms, and perfectly aware of who they were with. Carol smiled before sleep overtook her, her fingers combing gently through his hair. Spread out on the wedding blanket, they slept together as husband and wife, safe from walkers and prying eyes.

Nine months later, Beau, Lizzie and Mika welcomed a squalling, perfectly pink baby sister and Maggie passed the wedding blanket on to Michonne and Tyreese.

Ends

Author's Note: And there we have it, the end…or is it? LOL. While writing the ending to this story, I really wanted the sentiment of it to come full circle. We started out with an almost completely broken Carol, who had given all of herself for her baby to the point where she might not have made it if Daryl, Michonne and Glenn hadn't found her. The experience of pregnancy for Carol would have been terrifying, out there on her own, too scared to seek help because unlike Rick, she knew what kind of people were out there and she really couldn't take chances with the survival of her child. She took chances anyway, but it was with the best intentions. Now, two months and a week later, Daryl has been a gentleman, letting her body recover and her heart be sure that she is the man he wants, even though for him he's known all along. This is a much stronger, determined Daryl, less afraid of his shadow because he has learned that happiness is fleeting in this new world. He'd never had any in his old one and now that he'd been gifted with Carol, he knows that finding her was his second chance, and second chances are not to be squandered. We finish off rounding out their family. Yes, Carol is older, I'm thinking about 44 by this point, but while the risks do increase for that age group, it doesn't mean that ALL women have complications. Bob is still there, with Maggie and Michonne and don't forget nurse Lilly, so I choose to believe Carol was looked after well. This time Daryl got to experience all that comes with expecting a child, as well as the birth, and the thought of him having that, of them sharing that, made my poor, bitter heart happy.

I truly want to thank every single one of you that took this story into your hearts. The response to it has completely shocked yet delighted me. I want to thank rlmn (uncagedmuse) for giving me the kick in the butt I needed to finish this off, and all of you who have taken the time to leave kind words and encouragement with your reviews. I am so grateful for all of you. I hope to return to some other fics now, to help tide the gap until Season 5 starts—in which I have a whole lot of hope! Caryl on, everyone!