I wrote this after 4x05 (Internment) but before 4x08 (Too Far Gone) aired, so it's wildly AU at this point. It's dark. It also got abandoned after the mid-season finale, so it's just a snapshot of two imagined moments after Daryl brings Carol back to the prison. Two chapters only. But I'm apparently Posty Posterton today, so I thought I might as well put this up, too. Rating is probably overkill, but it's for language and heavy themes.

And for the record, I in no way believe Carol killed Karen and David. No way. She's covering for that creepy little Lizzy. But for the purpose of this story, she did.

Trigger warning: self-harm

Disclaimer: Not mine. No sue.

They stood side by side in silence, leaning on the railing of the perch in B-block. The group had decided Carol would be locked safely away from Tyreese and everyone else until the council could make a decision about her fate. Judging from the heated arguing during that first meeting, Daryl didn't expect a decision to be made any time soon, so at his first opportunity he'd brought her some food and an extra blanket. He'd grabbed a book for her at the last second, knowing how empty the prison block would feel with just her in it. She'd accepted his offerings with a whispered thanks and lowered eyes. Her submissive manner made him uneasy. Gone were her twinkling eyes and sassy smiles. She seemed far more like the timid mouse from the quarry than the fierce woman she'd become over the last year. The terrible sadness that weighed on her after Sophia died seemed to have returned. He never thought he'd ever want to hear her call him pookie, but right about now, he'd welcome it.

"I need you to hear something." Carol raised her head and straightened her shoulders. She looked into his face with that open, soulful gaze of hers. "I've said it before, but I need you to really hear me and understand it. OK?"

Daryl squinted at her cautiously. "A'right."

She hesitated, then spoke softly.

"Back at the beginning of all this, back at the quarry when we first met, I was afraid of you. I was afraid of everything then, really, and that included you. Later, when Sophia was lost, I didn't understand why you looked for her when no one else would. I didn't understand it, but I was grateful. You never gave up on her, and you wouldn't let me give up, either. But...she died."

He tensed as his heart constricted in his chest. It killed him that he hadn't been able to bring back that little girl. Her eyes pierced his soul as she continued, words coming faster now – more sure.

"It wasn't your fault. You were the only reason she might have had a chance out there at all. It wasn't your fault you couldn't save her. And that day at the barn, when she stepped through that door, you saved me. And after that, somehow you became my strength. And you just kept saving me – you've saved my life more times than I can count, but you saved me as well. You kept me sane and gave me strength enough to keep going."

Her eyes burned into him. His insides churned and he felt his eye twitch. She moved forward. A lifetime's habit made him flinch back just as far. Normally her closeness wouldn't bother him, but now her intensity made him anxious and triggered all his old reflexes.

"And now you've found me. Again. You always find me. You always come for me, and I'm so grateful for that. For you."

She took another step toward him, and he retreated again. He felt his back bump up against the side railing of the perch. She reached up and stroked her narrow hand down his cheek. His face grew hot – he felt the flush creeping up his neck. She'd always pushed his boundaries a little, in a teasing, flirtatious way, but this was different. She was different. He couldn't move, couldn't think.

"Rick told you what I did, didn't he? Before you came looking for me?" A quick, sharp nod yes. "But you had faith in me, that I'm still a person worth coming after, even with what I did. That belief in me says much more about you than it does about me."

She moved closer still. He felt the whisper of her clothes touching his, though she didn't quite press against him. He wanted to run, but he couldn't break away from the heat of her eyes.

"It's important to me that you hear this and really believe it. You are a good man. A brave, caring, kind, wonderful, GOOD man. You're everything to me. You're my friend – my best friend – but you're so much more than that, too. You're my strength...my heart. I love you."

The hand on his cheek slipped to the back of his neck. Her other hand reached for his waist. Daryl's stomach flipped as she pulled herself close and pressed her lips to his. They were gentle and soft as she kissed him, but firm, brooking no argument. And before his brain properly registered what was happening, she pulled back. Her blue eyes met his again, but the feverish intensity was gone.

She gently stroked his cheek again and smiled. She looked so sweet but terribly sad. "I love you, Daryl Dixon. And I'm so sorry. But I wanted you to know. And I want you to know that none of this is your fault."

She stepped away from him then, smile fading. She looked down, squeezing her eyes tight. He felt a tug at his waist and suddenly everything slipped into terrible, razor-sharp slow motion as he realized what was happening.

She had pulled the pistol from his belt and was raising it toward her own temple. Fear shot through him like electricity.

"NO!" The shout ripped from his chest without thought. He lunged forward, hands snapping out to catch her wrist, pushing up and away as her finger squeezed the trigger.

The shot rang out painfully within the concrete walls of the cell block. His ears sang, though he wasn't sure if it was from the gunfire or from his blood surging in fear. In the pause after the shot, Carol's eyes opened again. Realizing she hadn't succeeded, her face contorted in a scream. She struggled then, clawing and jerking at his hands, trying to pull free of him.

Daryl caught both her wrists wrists in one hand, using the other to pry the gun away. He threw it as far down the walkway as he could. He quickly pulled both knives from his belt and sent them after the pistol.

"Noooooooo! NO! You have to let me! I can't do this...NO! PLEEEEASE!"

She struggled so fiercely he nearly lost his grip. He spun her around and pulled her tight against him, trapping her arms against her chest. She howled wordlessly and bucked against him, trying to free herself, but he held her fast.

"What the fuck, Carol? WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT? The fuckin' hell are you trying to do?"

She lashed out with her feet then, kicking back toward his shins. He grunted as she connected solidly just under his left knee. He dropped down, planting them on the ground to prevent her from kicking. But the more he restrained her, the wilder she became. She screamed and thrashed, tried to bite him. The animal howls soon began to give way to sobs – deep, body wracking sobs that made his chest wrench painfully.

He shook hard as he held her down, breath coming harsh and ragged from the fear and adrenaline. Memories of holding her just like this flashed through his head – the heat, the horror, and the scent of sour hay, gunpowder, and death. He held her then as he did now, and his heart broke both for Carol and the lost little girl he'd tried so hard to find.

But now she was in pain, and he didn't understand why.

He spoke softly to her then, crooning gentle nonsense to try to calm them both down. He rocked her and stroked her short, silver curls. The fight went out of her and the bone shaking sobs became hiccuping tears and whimpers.

"Pleeeease, I can't..." she moaned.

"Can't what? I don't understand. You gotta tell me what's goin' on."

"I can't...do it anymore."

Then, as if a dam had burst, the words poured out between gasping breaths.

"It was my fault. After S-Sophia died, I knew it was all my fault because I was too weak to protect her. I couldn't even protect myself. I didn't want to fail anyone ever again so I tried to learn how to be strong. Tried so hard. You helped me and I got stronger. I was so proud – proud to be able to take care of my new family, and proud to be a real person, a strong...person. But it was so hard. I did it, but it was hard to keep up, keep going. I kept on, but it just got harder. And then when Karen and David got sick, there was nothing I could do. The fear came back. I was useless again, and they were in so much pain. Suffering. I tried to help them. I tried to protect us. I tried to take care of all of us even though it meant...killing them." Carol's voice trailed off into tears again.

Daryl waited for her to continue, rocking her gently.

"But it didn't work. I couldn't save anyone. It didn't matter even if it did work because I killed them. I killed them with my own hands. And then HE came and said I should look after Sasha because I care about people, but I killed them and he didn't know. It sunk in then, what I'd done. I killed her. And I b-burned her. Oh God, Daryl, I can't do this anymore. Doesn't matter if I'm strong or weak, people die, and it's my fault. It hurts. It hurts, it hurts so much. I'm so sorry – please let me make it stop. Please?" She moaned then, sounding wounded and broken. The pain in her voice was a vice around his heart.

He shifted her then, turning her toward him and gathering her up close – not restraining her anymore. Just comforting. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed her wet face into his chest, fresh tears erupting and soaking his shirt. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head and murmured reassurance to her, not knowing what else to do. He felt more lost than he ever had.

A small scuffling sound caught his attention then, and he looked up. Rick, Maggie, and Michonne must have heard the gunshot and come running, but were stopped by the locked cell block door. He hadn't heard them arrive, but judging from their stunned faces, they'd been there long enough to hear most of it. The heavy knot in his belly actually loosened a tiny bit.

Maybe Rick and the others would see she hadn't gone hard. Maybe she could come back from this.