A/N I had a lot of fun writing this chapter, and I hope you all enjoy it too – I really don't get the Carol hate, because personally, while I don't like her or agree with what she did, she's at least not Andrea ;) I think a lot of the hatred of her is due to bad writing, more so than the character itself – I really like some of the potential of what she could do/become, and am slightly annoyed with the decisions the writers have made. And we are going into what lead to her leaving the prison and all of that… and I will not have her take the blame for Lizzie- is Lizzie crazy? Absolutely! But… is she strong enough and capable enough to pull all that off, and heft those very heavy people out on her own… I just don't think so.
It was an hour later; the sun had completely set and they were sitting around in front of the fireplace. The fire cast a good amount of light, and it was a rare joy to be able to light one without worrying about the smoke attracting walkers. Everyone's bellies were full; Beth and Daryl had both packed away double the amount of everyone else, but with what they'd been going through no one was surprised. They'd been introduced to 'Johnny', who turned out to be a man in his forties, and who after a dry look to his father corrected his name to Charlie. "My name's John Charles, and I always hated Johnny – Dad's the only one that can get away with it. To everyone else I'm just Charlie."
"Can't blame a man for trying." Lil' John had piped up from the corner. "Name's been in the family for generations. You just had to be different."
Beth could see this was a conversation that routinely repeated itself. She smiled at that, it reminded her of her childhood, and the uncles and aunts she'd sit around and listen to. They didn't get together much, but when they did you could predict what each was going to say about any given thing based on the last decades conversations.
When she tuned back into the conversation a moment later, it was to hear Lil' John asking who would go first.
"Well I guess it should be me." Carol said from her spot on the floor. Judith was in her lap at the moment, but had been delighted to see her 'Beffy' and 'Darl" again, and had switched from lap to lap near non-stop. Carol looked to Lil' John and Charlie first "I lied a bit when I first came here, and for that I'm sorry; I had Judith to think about and I truly didn't think anyone else from the prison had made it out."
"Prison?" Charlie had asked, eyebrows raised.
"It's not as bad as it sounds." She said. "We'd cleared it of walkers and was living there for months. The yard was perfect for planting and the cells were just right for quarters. We used the gates for protection and had a secure, safe place. At least we thought so. We wanted to stay there forever."
"What happened?" Lil' John asked.
With a look to Beth and Daryl, pleading to keep part of her secret for now, she continued. "I was out gathering supplies, when a man we'd had problems with in the past came back. This time he brought an army." She shook her head. "I learned this after the fact… I was out when I saw this woman I didn't know holding Judith. I confronted her. Her name was Tara, and she was the one that told me the truth about what had happened." She looked down at the girl in her lap, so sweet and happy, unaware of everything that she had already survived. "Tara had been with the Governor, but once he revealed his wickedness, she says she refused to fight. She just sat there, shocked by everything going on around her. When the walkers moved in, she was driven into the prison to avoid them, and wound up running into Judith. Not seeing anyone around, she grabbed her out of the car seat, and took off. She had said that everyone was killed." Carol shook her head again. "She barely got out, and was barely surviving on the road with the baby when I ran into her the next day outside town."
At this point Judith climbed up from Carols lap, and after looking around the circle made a beeline for Daryl's, before settling in his arms. He held her tight and whispered "Hi ass-kicker."
"What happened then?" Beth asked, very aware of the fact that whoever this Tara was, she wasn't with them anymore.
"Judith obviously recognized me, so Tara passed her off pretty quickly – I owe her just for being willing to take her chances with a baby in this world. We were together a couple days, but something just wasn't right with her. She'd lost all her family in the prison assault, and just seemed to lose the will to fight. A walker got her pretty quickly." Carol looked into the fire, no doubt replaying the many losses they had all seen. "After that, Judith and I moved on – according to Tara we were on our own, and after not seeing signs of anyone anywhere, I just believed her. We came across here, what? A week ago now?" She asked Charlie, who was sitting next to her.
"Plus a few days." He answered.
"We were only out there a couple days before we got lucky enough to find here." Carol said, smiling up to the two men who had taken them in." She rubbed her hands together and looked at Judith, who was nearly out, mouth lolling open and drool starting to dribble down. "I better get her to bed."
"Lead the way." Daryl told her, lifting Judith up and rising smoothly. She led them down the back hallway to one of the side bedrooms… it was nearly empty, but there was a pad that he guessed the two shared on the middle of the floor. He laid her down gently, stroking her hair a bit when she started to stir. "Sleep well ass-kicker." He whispered to her, and she settled down contentedly. He rose off the bed; Carol was standing against the doorframe, wringing her hands as she watched them.
"Please don't tell them about what happened." She said in one fast breath.
"Ya mean how you murdered two people?" Daryl asked, the suppressed anger of it rising up inside him. "Betrayed us all?"
Carol flinched at that. "Please Daryl." She said, looking him straight in the eye and praying he could see the sincerity in what she was saying. "I just meant to protect us. I thought they would infect everyone and kill us one by one." Her eyes weren't meeting anything now, looking off into the distance and back through time. "I just thought… rather than the others having to make the hard decisions… again… that I would. If that had stopped the sickness and no one else had died I wouldn't have regretted it." She answered truthfully, nodding her head, and he just shook his head in response. "But I know now that no matter it was wrong for me to act like that alone."
"Shit, ya think?" He answered, sarcastically.
"Daryl." She said, grabbing his hand, tight, trying to get him to listen to her. "I did what Rick said, and I went out and started over. I'm not gonna make the same mistakes twice and I am going to do everything I can to make it right, by keeping Judith safe."
He could see the sincerity in what she said, and feel it through the vise grip she had on his hand. "This ain't over." He told her, "but I won't spill the beans tonight."
When they got back to the living room, Beth had claimed one of the empty spots on the couch, and was curled up with a blanket, looking close to sleep herself. Lil' John and Charlie had gone to the kitchen for snacks and water. Now they were both working their way through a bowl of cucumbers, wishing for the potato chips of old. "She out?" Charlie asked. He'd taken a liking to the little girl, and she was fast working him around her little finger.
"Like a light." Carol said, settling into one of the rockers.
"So now you two." Lil' John said, turning to Daryl, who had perched himself on the arm of the couch by Beth's head. "What's the last few weeks been like for you?"
"Hell." Daryl answered, honestly, looking down at the woman that was almost asleep next to him. She obviously wasn't talking, so he took a couple minutes to figure out where to start, before realizing that nothing would ever fully explain it all. Still he'd do what he could. "Beth's daddy was the one the Governor killed, before the actual attack. She watched him loose his head by Michonne's sword." He looked over to Carol and could see the tears forming in her eyes. So she didn't know this part – Tara must not have told much, other than generic death. "We escaped by the skin of our teeth," he nodded down to the now fast asleep Beth. "That one took a beating – had a nasty gash I had to sew up in the woods that night." He coughed, and Charlie passed him water. "Thanks."
"Take your time." Charlie reminded him.
He sat for a minute, wondering if he needed to share the next part, but seeing Beth fast asleep he realized it felt good to be saying it all, and figured she wouldn't hear to be bothered. "We rested up a day, and then made it back to the prison looking for the others. Didn't find anyone. At least not anyone alive."
"Who?" Carol asked, dreading the answer.
"Hershel, or his head at least. Had to put him down myself. Then Bob. And Glenn. Well, didn't have to put him down because there wasn't anything left but… We have his pocket watch to give to Maggie when we catch up with her." Each person came alive in his mind as he spoke of them, and it still got to him to know he'd never again have to deal with the Koreans lame jokes. "After that we've just been circling. Looking for signs of anyone, and not finding much. Lots of trouble and walkers though. Woodbury's burnt out, Kings is deserted. Got a good stash of ammo there if ya'll need refills."
"We don't have much need for guns here, the ammo we have should keep for a long while." Charlie answered.
Daryl nodded his head. "We do know what happened to Rick, Michonne and Carl." He answered, looking at Carol, knowing this would mean nothing to the others. "They headed north, hoping to make a way of things there. Got to Woodbury at least."
"That's great." Carol said smiling.
"He thinks she's gone." He said, motioning back towards the bedroom and the sleeping girl. "Not even looking for her, and probably not near so well set up for caring for her."
"Well she's his; if things ever get so settled or reconnected that he makes it here, we'd figure something out." Carol answered honestly. "Make room for them too, or something." Lil' John and Charlie nodded their heads in agreement.
"Now why ain't their more people here if this is such a prime spot for hiding?" He turned and asked Charlie, his suspicions still raised that they hadn't attracted more attention yet.
"A couple reasons." He answered, twisting his water bottle over and over his hand. "For one, we just got the rope and raft system set up in the last week, before that it was sheer dumb luck that we would run across someone. And that road really isn't traveled much." Daryl nodded at that – they hadn't even seen an abandoned car in miles. "Then you add in the fact that a lot of people are still searching… different things for different folks, but the thought of sitting out in a little parcel of land, and giving up finding whatever it, is they need ain't too appealing."
"Then you add in they have to be willing to live with an old coot like me…" Lil' John added, laughing and rubbing his knee.
"He mentioned tempers suiting?" Charlie asked. Daryl nodded. "Well that ain't so much your temper as it is his. He don't have his meds any more, and without them he loses track of where he is sometimes."
"My boy here takes care of me." He admitted, looking a little more sorrowful now.
"Not much, just on the real bad days." Charlie admitted, looking over at his dad. "The good days are like today; the bad days he could think he's 12 or 60. Ya never know when the sun rises what you're gonna get, and that's scared some people off."
"My home had a coupl'a people like that." Daryl said, 'Never harmed no one, just kept to themselves." He added, his immediate concern for Judith's safety fading as he learned more…. Even if he thought he was 5 one day, that would just mean she had a playmate. A luxury compared to risking it out there as a walker appetizer.
They fell into silence then, all absorbing the heavy conversation. Charlie was the one that spoke up first. "So you and Beth…?" He asked, trailing off. He couldn't get a read on them, and Daryl's tale had never fully explained it.
"Yeah." He said looking down at her again. The fire made her hair shimmer, and the strained look she'd had for the last weeks was mostly gone, beaten back by the safe surroundings and full stomach. "We've run into some strangers. Some have been good, and one was bad. Real bad." He looked down at Beth and though back to Nate. It took him a minute to even realize his knuckles were white and his fists were so tightly clenched; he momentarily wished Nate back just to beat him to hell again.
Carol had brought her hands to her mouth at the implications and her eyes shone with tears again, seeing Daryl's expression and knowing too well herself where this was headed.
"We'd split up for me to go hunting, left her back at the house to rest and heal up – wasn't too long after she'd gotten real hurt, and was hoping for some good meat to help." He shook his head again, the feeling of helplessness being stuck up in the tree striking him and making him feel sick and angry all over again. "I got back in time, before… well before he'd been able to fully do what he wanted." He whispered, with an edge to his voice that gave everyone goose bumps. "Not soon enough for him to have done mor'n enough damage anyways." He looked into the fire at that point; he didn't need their eyes on him or on Beth while he explained these parts. "I had to fix her up, and since that night we ain't been apart since, not if we can help it." He thought back to the night in the tree, was that just last night? He thought idly, not realizing just how full this day had been. "we started off telling others we were brother and sister, to keep a reason for us to be together all the time and away from suspicion… till it was pointed out that we don't exactly seem like kin." He chuckled at that, and heard Carol doing so too.
"Southern Belle Barbie and Red-Neck Ken." Carol whispered, smiling a bit at herself. "I can see how someone would see through that."
"Well." Daryl said, shrugging his shoulders. "After that, being a couple seemed the next best thing. I got a ring off a walker for her to wear, but ain't been around a place where I've been able to get one for me, and then figured out her damn ring wouldn't fit on her skinny ass finger anyways." He looked over to the two men across the room from him. "You all were the first to really be told the married story, not knowing what you was about at first." They nodded their heads in understanding. At that, a yawn came on Daryl with a force he couldn't avoid. It had been a long, tiring day.
"Let's get you all to bed." Charlie said, rising from his seat. "Will she sleep here, or wake and have issues?" He asked Daryl
"Nightmares come real easy." He told them, thinking of every time they'd been apart and the screams he'd woken up too.
"Alright then." Charlie said, grabbing a flashlight and pile of blankets from the closet.
Daryl walked up to Beth, and moving carefully, picked her up so she was cradled in his arms. Her head lolled to the side the same way as Judith had, but she stirred even less. Amazing what the sudden removal of stress and danger will do to you. He followed Charlie to the back bedroom across the hall from Judith's. It was even emptier, but had a pad on the floor that would serve them well for the night, and a rolled up fleece blanket that would work for a pillow. He laid Beth down gently, before turning back to the man and wishing him a goodnight.
The next morning he was up with the sun, the first one to rise as usual. The kitchen was well stocked with food to eat; and while he missed having a microwave burrito something awful, he was grateful he could at least have his full of something. Even if most of it was rabbit food.
"Morning." A voice from the doorway said, and he turned to see Carol, holding Judith on her hip. She walked into the kitchen and put her up in her highchair, before going to one of the cabinets and grabbing one of the jars of baby food. "They made a run after we came, and stocked up enough for her and another baby I think." She said, smiling gratefully. Judith was to the point of feeding herself now, albeit a bit messily, so Carol left her in her seat and walked about the kitchen prepping her own meal. "Still miss a fridge." She said wistfully, drinking the water but grimacing at the warm temperature.
Daryl just looked at her and grunted. "Did I wake you?" He asked, voice still gravely with waking up.
"No, we were already up in the room. That one," she said, pointing at Judith "likes to wake up before the sun, but I refuse to let her leave the bed until I'm ready. When we heard you out here, we figured it was time."
Daryl nodded his head, taking another bite of one of his carrots. "Thought about it overnight. Past is past… I think if you live here for long you'll end up needing to tell 'em something, but I ain't the one to do it."
"Thank you." She said, from her side of the table. She looked like she wanted to say more, but bit her tongue and shook her head instead.
"Beth won't tell either." He told her.
At the mention of Beth, it seemed whatever Carol wanted to say couldn't be held in anymore. "What is going on with you too? Really, I mean, not acting?" She asked. The curiosity was driving her crazy.
"What ya mean?" He asked, not wanting to reveal or talk any more than he needed to.
"I mean, I see the way you look at her, and I see the way she looks at you." She answered, taking the baby food from Judith and starting to hand feed her now that the jar was getting low. "The way you two move… It's like you base your position off each other, always keeping some close contact along the way."
He blushed at that, he didn't know that their actions were so telling. He brushed down his hair, waiting for the browbeating that was to come.
"It's not bad." She told him, reading the change in his body language. "You've been on your own, and it might keep you alive one day… if you chose to go again." She paused for a minute "you could stay with us, if you wanted to."
"Carol, you and I..." He trailed off, trying to think of the right words to say, and having absolutely no frame of reference for any of this.
"I don't mean like that." She said, and stopped him before he could dig himself in too deep. "You and I had potential, but there was always something that kept holding us back; maybe it was Beth all that time."
He shook his head, "Naw, wasn't her then, just wasn't right." He told her.
"Never know quite how things are gonna turn out, huh?" She asked, smiling.
"I sure as hell don't." He answered back. "But I can't see us staying. Beth ain't ready to give up on her sis yet..."
"…And you can't send her out there on her own." Carol finished his sentence for him. She scraped the last of the jar empty and zoomed the last spoonful into a giggling Judith.
"No." He admitted, honest with himself; he was pretty much at the mercy of following Beth where she needed to go now. "You could come with us. We'd make it work, and Beth would love the time with Judith."
She shot him a look then, while she was wiping the last of the food off a very messy face. It annoyed her, and she screeched and screamed trying to get away. "No I think being on an empty island is pretty much the best bet for this little girl right now," She answered, putting her down on the ground where she went off to play with the basket of toys. A moment later she switched back to the old topic at hand. "What we had was different." She said, picking at a spot on the table with her nail as she spoke. "And it was real. But it wasn't enough. "
He nodded his head at that, it felt refreshing to have a conclusion to something, rather than the what-ifs that were a hallmark of so many things in this life. "Is you and Charlie enough?" He asked, having a suspicion that they would wind up an item at some point themselves, based on the looks they were giving each other.
"Are you and Beth?" She replied, turning red at the question but coming back with one of her own.
He was saved from answering her as Lil' John and Charlie came clomping into the kitchen.
Beth ended up sleeping a full two hours longer than anyone else. When she woke up, she apologized, but was waved off with what amounted to 'you needed it' from everyone around her. Except for Daryl, he just grunted and shrugged. She figured that meant the same thing. The morning was bright and cheerful, the light streamed into the large windows and made the place glow from the inside out. What she wouldn't give to be able to stay here permanently. But Maggie… No, as much as she would cherish the time they spent here, which would be another day at least, she just couldn't leave it like that with her sister. "You're always welcome." Charlie reminded her, guessing at what she was thinking as she watched Judith and blinked back tears. It was wonderful for Beth to get to see her again, and replace the images from her nightmares with real, happy images of her playing with toys just as she should.
"We could stay." Daryl told her honestly, coming to sit down next to her on the couch. He wordlessly passed her a cup of tea, which she sipped carefully while waiting for it to cool.
"I want to Daryl, I do." She told him honestly. "But I just ain't ready to cross her off like that. I wanna find her and bring her here, not settle down and imagine all the things she's fighting and going through out there." She was playing with the tea bag, lifting it up and down and she spoke.
"I figured." He said. "How long before ya wanna go?"
"Another day?" She asked him "If it's okay?" He nodded his head. "Just wanna get some more good time with Judith, and rest before heading back out there."
"Could stay longer," He told her "don't need to rush out."
"Yeah we do." She said simply, "longer we stay the less I'll be ready to leave." Judith came up to her then, and crawled her way up to sitting in her lap, holding her tightly. "Specially when she does things like this." She whispered smelling her soft hair.
It was the afternoon, and Judy was down for a nap. Lil' John, Charlie, and Daryl were out hunting, Daryl teaching them some of his traps to catch what they could in the forest. Beth and Carol were working in the garden, the windows were all open in the house. It meant that when Judith woke up they would hear her crying. "You're lucky to have found this place." Beth said to her, digging in her section of the garden plot.
"Yeah." Carol said, pulling out the weeds scattered in among the plants. "I appreciate you keeping my past a secret." She told Beth, meeting her eyes.
"Judith needs to be safe and cared for" Beth said, putting her hair behind her head. "You're the one that can do it right now, so seems you should be in the safest place possible." She looked around where they were. They were in the middle of the island, with trees all around them; because of the elevation, they could still through them to the shore in a couple areas. The northern mile of the island was nothing but hunting forest, and the southern section beyond what they had cleared was ignored, to give nature a chance of righting itself. She could see the ropes that lead to shore, and followed them along until she found herself looking at the riverbanks. "Carol there's a walker there!" She said, nervous to see it so clearly. It was obviously drawn to the island, either from scent or by sight she didn't know.
"It's okay." Carol said next to her. "Watch it."
It struggled for a few minutes, fighting the surf, before the swift moving currant took it under and it disappeared. "And they've never made it here?" she asked.
"Not yet." Carol answered. "This island is a gift, in every way… the river moves fast on either side of it, so no one can cross from level with it. Then the upstream part that could have something wash up is all cliffs… even if a walker came from farther north it wouldn't be able to get up the rock. There's only a couple sections on the whole island that are low enough to be able to dock a boat or climb out of the water, the rest is just too steep for anything."
It made Beth happy to know, that whatever happened to them, Judy was well cared for and safe here; the chances of her surviving to the end were good. One day, they could find her sister and the others and make another go of it, and someday if their luck was good, they could all be reunited. "You will survive to the end." She said, knowing in her gut that if they came back in a few years she would get to see Judith as a girl instead of a babe. "Could you do me a favor?"
"What is it?" Carol asked.
She stood up from her spot in the garden and walked back to the edge where her bag rested. Even here, she could not bring herself to believe they were safe, not enough to leave her bag too far out of reach. She rifled through it, before pulling out her journal, and passing it to Carol. "It's not just my journal anymore." She said, looking at the beat up notebook. "It's a record."
"A record?" Carol asked, turning the book over in her hands.
"Go ahead and open it. Towards the back" She corrected, the front was teenage rambling, but the back was filled, pages and pages, of whom they had met, and what their journey had been. "Someday this world is gonna be put to rights. We've talked about it, and agree. The walkers can't last forever – the oldest ones are decaying even as they walk around. Eventually the tide will turn and there will be more of us than of them… we just have to be able to survive and wait 'em out."
"You think so?" Carol asked.
"I know so." She answered, certainly. "The fresh ones are more active, and the older ones are slower – but it's easier for me to put my knife through the older ones too – give it more time, and eventually their brains are just going to rot out of their skulls. I've seen it with animals in the woods, and I think were starting to see it with walkers too."
"Why do you want me to have this?" She asked, closing it and laying it in her lap.
"Because as much as I know we just have to wait, I can't wait here… sooner or later we'll be in a scrape where that may get lost." She shrugged her shoulders. "I just think that everyone should have some record of what happened to their loved ones. I'll start a fresh one, as we meet others now… but that one's near full, and I can't think of a safer place for it."
"Then we'll keep it safe for you. Until then." She answered. She looked at the girl in front of her, and corrected herself for thinking girl. Beth was grown now, and was an adult in every way that counted in this world. "Can you do me a favor too?" She asked.
"Sure." Beth answered, wiping at the sweat on her brow. "What is it?"
"Take care of Daryl." She answered, and smiled when she saw how quickly Beth blushed and looked down. They might not be able to admit it to each other yet, but to anyone else it was plan to see that they were fast becoming more than just apocalypse buddies… they were become partners.
"I try." She answered honestly. "Only so much I can do for the grouch." she said teasingly, and Carol chuckled in response. The grouch did make things harder than they had to be sometimes.
"Well the grouch is more affected by you than you know." Carol told her firmly. "And he may want to shoot me for telling you this, but he as much as admitted that you're the one's calling the shots on when to go and stay somewhere. "
Beth didn't say anything to that, she knew it was true but had never had it put to her in a way that spoke to how much power she held. It made her dizzy to think.
"Just make smart choices, okay? And realize what the consequences of them are."
Beth couldn't say anything to that, but nodded her head. A moment later, Judith's cries filtered through the breeze, and Carol went to go get her, leaving Beth with her very conflicted, very emotional thoughts.
A/N Wow, there was a lot of talking in this one, but when I read through it, to me it was pretty much all were things that needed to be said. Our power couple needed a break after the ringer I've put them through, with more to come in the future. And I totally would find my way to living on an island in the zombie apocalypse, I fail to see why no one but the governor has seemed to think of using water as a defense tool yet. And while I have no idea about the topography of GA, I have seen many island s like the one I describe in my travels to other places that have wide rivers and lakes spread throughout them, so I have no doubt that there must be something like it somewhere in the state.
And this time I really mean it, computer is going down for the count, so expect at least week before we meet again However, as of writing this, I am 1 review shy of 100 (100!), with more than that many Favs, and 175+ alerts. To say that blows anything else I have written out of the water is a complete understatement, and seriously floors me. To everyone that has taken the time to do any of the above actions to let me know that you are reading, THANK YOU. I have had a seriously sucky last few weeks, and I found myself going back and reading them, just for a little emotional lift. I wish I could respond to all of them individually, but time is a cruel mistress, and this is all I can manage at this time. Just know that they are all cherished, and I appreciate that you took the time to leave them. Thanks!