Caryler secret Santa gift for Blackqueenphoenix! I hope you enjoy it. I do apologize for the fact that it isn't smutty, but I figure this will make up for it.

Please excuse errors! Uploader likes to remove random words and I typed most of this on my phone so we shall see how it turns out.

Leaving the prison was hard for Daryl.

It was not because he is going to truly miss this place and the few belongings of his it held, or because he was now responsible for Beth, or even because he was granted some sense of strange peace in his life. No.

No. Leaving would be impossible because it would now be impossible for Carol to return.

Backs to the ravaged prison, he and Beth run for some asylum they don't yet know they're looking for. The pair are separated from the rest, and know it is up to them to survive. Yet as they flee and slowly gain more distance from the ruins, Daryl can't help but be reminded of Sophia.

Sophia, who ran and became separated from the group, thinking it would lead her to safety. Everyone hoped for the best, hoping that she was still alive and would return safe and sound. Was it a pipe dream? Maybe. But she was a smart girl who knew the dangers of walkers.

At least she ran from them when the hoard passed, right? Maybe she would be ok. Maybe she would return.

That maybe was all it took for the group to leave a pile of supplies on the highway, with the note on the dashboard saying someone would return each day. Hell, that wasn't even hope, that was survival 101: Stay put by a known location.

Sophia was a child, yes, and certainly not as skilled as her mother, but that's when Daryl starts to get nervous.

Carol would return to the prison, in her own time. If it was in hope of a changed heart from Rick, or even in spite, she would come back. Now what would she find?

An empty, shattered, and overrun prison.

Some say there is no fate worse than death, but in this world, that is not true. Death is on the line every single day, it is child's play now. Now the fate worse than death is the unknown. Did they get out? Who made it? Who didn't? Where are they? What happened?

Now what do I do?

That question sends Daryl's mind reeling. Carol would be ok, of course, but now she knows nothing. Knowing nothing is the same as having nothing. Supplies? A car? They don't matter. Surviving means more than continuing to breathe; a concept Daryl is far too comfortable with.

With a short breath, Daryl shakes his mind and focuses on the task at hand.

Dashing through the woods, Beth a few staggered steps behind him, the pair slow to a stop as Beth's tears turn to sobs.

"We have nothing! We have no one, nowhere to go, nothing," Beth's gasps made worse by her shortness of breath. Daryl could only give a sympathetic ear, but keeps his mind on the job at hand.

"We can't think 'bout that now. We gotta keep movin'," It is a bit harsh, especially since her father was decapitated not two hours ago, but asylum must be found. Then she would be free to mourn. Him as well, though for not the same reason.

With a sharp nod, Beth sniffles and wipes her face with her hands. A deep breath and a shake of her arms would have to do for now. Daryl reaches forward and gives her a slight tug forward and the couple takes off at a brisk pace through the backcountry.

At the first sight of the odd walker here and there, the pair ups their pace to a jog and carries on, no desire to continue the violence. An odd thought, really, how the definition of violence has so drastically changed in the not to distant past.

Daryl and Beth trudge on, Beth more than thankful for Daryl's quiet nature. Their silent steps prove their worth when a small doe crosses their path. Bringing it swiftly down, the odd couple make camp for the night. Sitting by the small cooking fire, there is no conversation. Perhaps it will always be like this. Maybe it isn't so bad, especially at first. Beth needs to sort out her thoughts before voicing them to such a stoic character, who is surprisingly the first to pipe up.

"We gotta find a more permanent shelter. Somewhere we can hole up and stock supplies. Runnin' ain't good for ya, and I can tell you're tired of that life," Beth sits quietly, willing that her tears not spill over. "I uh, I don't know if it'll do you any good but, I mean, your old farm? Maybe the herd passed?" Her tears spills, and Beth pulls her hands over her eyes. Daryl muffles an apology, but Beth takes no offense. This is the best he can do.

She cries off into a rough sleep and Daryl takes watch. For such a traumatic day, he is surprised she can sleep at all. Maybe this will be their new wordless routine. Not as polished as his and Merle's, but just until Beth gets her voice back.

Daryl does not sleep that night.

The next week is full of wandering. Every so often Daryl catches a track of what looks like a nonwalker trail, and with nothing to lose, they follow it. After multiple dead ends, and couple more literal dead ends, they get lucky and stumble across an old trail. Following it, they trip through the brush and come into an opening with a small cabin in the center. After being momentarily stunned, Daryl shoves Beth back into the foliage and whips out his crossbow to scout the scene. Coming to her senses, Beth draws her knife, knowing full well its uselessness.

From the outside, it looks like it has no more than a few rooms, but tall enough for maybe a loft or even another story. A tin chimney pokes up from the back, and a wood shed is stocked in the lean-to.

It's perfect, at least for now, and only if it's empty.

Daryl chucks a rock to the window under the porch awning. No movement there.

Beth follows as Daryl takes point, and they make their way to the back. From there, there is a window high enough to be an attic or second floor, which proves nothing now but adds danger later. Turning the knob on the back door, Daryl snaps it open and readies his bow.

With bated breath, there is no movement from within. The back door opens into a small unstocked kitchen. There is a door straight ahead and another to the right, which opens into a bedroom. Beth peers around the bedroom door and waves Daryl off. Empty.

Hopes are rising, but that's always a dangerous thing to let rise.

Daryl nods and moves forward to leave the kitchen. Jerking around the corner, they enter a small living room, which is thankfully furnished and empty. There is another door on the right, which is closed, as well as what looks like a closet door ajar. Leaving it for now, Daryl moves to investigate the drawers of the desks in the room, hoping for some indication of the people who lived here, and their fates.

Beth approaches the closet and slowly inches it open. There is one large hunting jacket sitting on a hangar, as well as a large rod. With a poke, Beth nudges it free, and with a large bang, an umbrella falls to the floor with a clatter. Instincts overriding him, Daryl turns and raises his crossbow, rolling his eyes when he sees it is not a walker. Beth apologizes with her expression and he turns back to his search.

Beth pokes around herself and moves to open the other door. Unslinging the gun from her back, she positions herself to fling it open.

Pulling it open, Beth notes half a degree of resistance, and pulls harder to open it. Doing so, the door opens and the stairs to the second story are exposed, as well as a wide-eyed and feral Carol.

After processing the image in front of her, Beth's mouth slowly drops and a whisper of a gasp slips out. Her gun clatters to the ground. Carol's knife does the same.

With a snap, Daryl is again turned from his search to find the two women slipping from their battle stance. With shuddered breath, Beth or Carol embrace, Carol almost knocking Beth down because of her height advantage on the stairs. For the first time since being cast off, Carol smiles a true smile, and Beth truly sobs, clinging for the companionship and comfort Beth craved.

Daryl, lowering his crossbow, can only gawk. Convinced his eyes are deceiving him, raises his bow again, approaching slowly.

"Beth get back," He growls. Beth and Carol break their embrace, and Carol sees him for the first time.

Carol losses her breath and lifts her hands to her mouth. Tears pooling over, she steps aside the weeping girl and heads to the armed man. Daryl's eyes widen as his mind accepts the scenario.

Disarming again, the two just stand in front of each other, afraid to breathe. Saying nothing, Carol doesn't mind. Her tears for him could say more than any other word. Pursing her lips, she lowers her hands and moves to touch his forearm, and is pleased when he doesn't flinch away.

Still gawking, Daryl returns the gesture and gets the feel of her rough shirt. It really is her. There can be no denying it. Taking his other hand, he places it on her shoulder, getting more of a feel of her skin. It's Carol. It's Carol. She's back. She's alive.

Not able to form any other thought, Daryl repeats his mantra over in his mind.

With a bright smile, Carol lunges forward and encloses Daryl into the tightest of embraces. Her tears fall faster now, and her heart skips a beat when he responds to the gesture and hugs her back.

With the realization that they are allowing themselves to be this exposed to one another, Carol squeezes tighter, not caring if she's pushing her luck with him. With a smile and small laugh, Daryl murmurs her name into her shoulder, and even thought he can't see it, Carol gives another beaming smile.

Daryl pulls her away and holds her shoulders again.

"You did alright," He smiles, not letting her tears go unnoticed.

"Did you really have any doubts?" Well no, no he didn't.

He knew that she would be ok, but her fate is known. She hadn't gone back to the prison to find ruins! She wouldn't die knowing what had happened!

"Naw, naw I didn't."

He let Carol go so that she may comfort Beth once more, but was thankful for the release. His thoughts could barely form.

This meeting should not have happened. The odds are too impossible.

But it did, and he isn't complaining.

Settling into the hunting cottage was easier than expected. It had more of a feeling of home than a prison ever could. It did not take long until repairs were made, reinforcements built, and food stocked.

Carol and Daryl settled the fastest, as they had the least to lose running from the prison. Beth still struggles with the thought that Maggie is still out there, her fate unknown. Her mind dances around the thought of leaving to search, but she never voices such a desire.

Without the prying and judging eyes of the old group, Carol and Daryl's relationship grew in a way that they do everything else: wordlessly. If Beth could tell their bond was growing, she either didn't say anything, or she didn't care.

It only took four months for the mismatched family to be established into their abode. Thankfully, no living humans crossed their paths. The occasional stray walker was not given the time of day. Peace has been found once more.

With Beth cooking a fowl stew in the back kitchen , Daryl and Carol found a rare moment of silence by the front door under the full moon.

Carol, sitting cross-legged next to Daryl, who is laying on his back on the ground, the pair are enjoying a starry night, with no noise other than the odd chirp of a bird or croak of toad in the not too far off pond.

Peace. This solitude is utterly blissful.

Breaking the silence and not making any gesture to Carol, Daryl launches into a memory a night not so different than this one.

"Ya know, when I was a kid, I just would go off for days at a time. Would bring nothin' but a 12 gauge and a hammock. Folks noticed nothing, didn't day nothing, and it was nice to get Merle off my back. I would go out and snare what I could, shoot what I could, and live off'a that. At night I would climb the highest tree I could and sling my hammock up and just lay back an' watch the stars. That was the only peace an' quiet I got as a kid."

In slight disbelief at the intimate story, Carol looked fondly down at Daryl and noticed he was actively trying to avoid her gaze. This is one of the first times he spoke of a fond childhood memory. From what she heard, and seen from the state of his back, there were not too many good ones.

An endearing smile ghosts her lips and she can see his facade slipping as he gives her a quick glance. With the tiniest of huffs, Carol lowers herself to her companion and presses the slightest of kisses to his lips, testing the boundaries she so wants to break.

Daryl, more surprised than anything, is truly confused as to why she pulled away so quickly. Slowly raising herself back up, Daryl realizes that he doesn't want her to back off, that he is disappointed her kiss was so brief.

As he moves to sit up, Daryl props his arm back for balance, and uses his other to draw Carol in. In one of his most exposed moments, he opens his mouth ever so slightly and closes around Carol's soft upper lip. In his mind, he is second guessing himself to the moon and back, but some part of him knows Carol doesn't care, and he draws just enough courage from that though to open and reclose his lips around hers again, pleased, and relieved, when she responds to his kiss.

She is smiling into his tender kisses, and Daryl is overcome with self-consciousness and pulls back. Bold as ever, Carol presses him back in, and it is Daryl's turn to smile.

They are both horrible kissers. Carol has let too much time pass since her last loveless kiss, and she has no idea if Daryl has ever kissed anyone before. Yet he catches on quickly and soon their teeth stop knocking and it becomes even nicer.

This was a long time coming. Carol was aware of her feelings long ago, and Daryl, well, he always cared, but in his own uncertain way, not fully realizing them until recently.

"Beth'll be done soon," Daryl broke first and Carol was left wanting more, but she did not disagree.

They looked at each other, and Carol knows that tonight was the perfect night to make her move. The sky is perfect, and the world is still. Most importantly, nosy Beth was occupied elsewhere.

Carol gave a single chuckle, and Daryl repeated her, both marveling at the oddity of the situation.

Odd, but not unwelcome. After all they have been through, this was bound to happen. Meeting again, in the way that they did, to think it meant nothing, would be foolish.

It took more courage than fighting the undead could ever require, but

If every act of creation is first an act of destruction, maybe life wouldn't be so bad from this point forward. Maybe. The hope of maybe is enough, as it has proved in the past, and will continue in the future.

At least they can hope.

Merry Christmas! I hope you liked it!