Summary: He wishes she'd hold on even tighter than that. Wishes he could feel her nails dig deep in his skin. That she'd leave behind evidence of her very life. Caryl one-shot (probably) with spoilers for 5x01.
Disclaimer: The Walking Dead does not belong to me.
A/N: Obligatory reunion one-shot. Can a DVR actually wear out from overuse on one scene?
"It's not over until they're all dead."
The leaves blur a muddled brown beneath his unfocused stare.
"The hell it isn't! That place is on fire...full of walkers!"
It's too much. He pushes his eyes shut against the words, willing it all to just disappear.
"I'm not dickin' around with this crap. We just made it out."
They open against the unending throb, and the rotting leaves swim back into view. Cracking, crumbling, decaying into the worthless dirt. Powdering down into smaller and smaller fragments until there's nothing left of them at all.
"The fences are down. They'll run or die."
Nothing left of them at all. For a moment, the thought feels like unbearable peace.
The weight of Ricks expectant glance lands like a burden at Daryl's back.
Run or die. Fight or run. And he wonders if what's left is worth either one.
They're waiting for him to speak, to decide, again, who lives and who dies, but he just can't look away from the leaves. Can't lift his eyes even as he hears the soft tread at his back. The cadence is familiar, like lingering wisps from a forgotten dream.
There's no danger in those hesitant steps.
And it scares him. Startles him. Sends his blood rushing in terrified pinpricks up his arms like the approach of no walker ever could.
Still, he's cautious against the dizzying rush. Lets only his eyes edge toward the sound. Reserves the rest of his tormented body for the next horror to stagger their way.
It's not the first time he's thought he's seen this particular ghost.
His eyes narrow against the sharp pain of hope.
The blood in his veins flares unbearably warm.
For a moment he forgets how to breathe. Forgets everything except for her. Can't even blink because if he does-
She's there and she's real and he can't quite work out how that can be. Edging nearer with careful steps, weapons hanging too heavily at her thin back.
-she might disappear like the powdering leaves underneath their feet.
The thought sends him running, skidding, crashing into her waiting form. For a moment, he half fears she'll crumble to dust before his eyes. That he'll feel nothing but the breeze.
But his arms find her solid against his chest.
It takes him a moment to realize Carol's holding him, too.
And, hell, he can't get close enough. Can't wrap his arms around her tight enough. He can't even feel her until he's got her off the ground and what little weight she has bends at his back.
But she's there. There in his arms, clasping her own around his back. And he wishes like hell she'd hold on even tighter than that. Wishes he could feel her nails dig deep in his skin. That she'd leave behind evidence of her very life.
He lifts her again, gathering all of her weight, all of her substance, all of Carol against his chest.
A damp gasp of air escapes from his mouth.
And later, he's surprised to find that the thought of not knowing how to do this never even crosses his mind. He's never in his life felt need like this.
All he can think of is this. Like there's no room for anything else. His desperate hand rakes through her hair. It tangles and pulls and practically begs for her to do the same.
When he can breathe - and it's not steady by any sort of a stretch - it comes back to him a tiny bit. It's the most painful thing he can think to do, but he loosens his hand.
Her arms tighten, crashing him forward once again. He buries his face in her welcoming shoulder.
Eventually, he steps away. Lets his hands trace her arms down to her wrists.
And, he sees her. Really sees her for the first time since his desperate run.
It's her eyes that make him undone.
Later, he'll realize, that's the way it always has been.
It's not even the way she looks at him. It's not the way she's fighting back the tears, though, hell, that makes him want to put his fist in a tree. No, those are thoughts left on the dim fringe. What tears his heart right in two, what burns sharper than any of that, is the question he reads in those beautiful eyes. Like she's not sure of any of this. Like she can't quite believe that it's even real. Like it might all blow away - dust carried off by a cold, cruel wind.
Like she can't believe that he's-
It shatters him deep, down to his soul.
He should have found her. He should have come.
He can't even hold her gaze for the shame he feels. It piles up like a dark, rolling cloud. He can't assure her - can't tell her - can't do fucking anything to stop the sob from clawing its way up into his throat.
His forehead falls against her shoulder when he can't force I'm sorry to pass through his lips.
Yet, she knows. Just the way she always has.
Carol's hands skirt his jaw to rest on his cheeks. She's freezing cold against his skin, jarring him back to the moment at hand. Her lips press absolution against his matted hair.
She knows. She knows and forgives him all the same.
He sags against her in exhausted relief.
It's so different than that night at the farm. Back then he'd flinched and pulled away. He craves it now. Needs it like the blood flowing in rivers through his veins. Her touch. Her. Carol.
It's all he can do to gather himself. To straighten against the footsteps intruding at his back.
With Rick's approach he steps away. Fights against the raw pain in his throat and the urge to sink down to the dirt. He turns and tries to gather himself. Forgets, for an instant, that -
"Did you do that?"
Instinct. Threat. He's a rocking step forward and ready to strike before he even sees the lack of malice on the other man's face.
But her eyes dart to Daryl, and he eases back. Calms his breath and contents himself with being near to her side. Observes them through a shimmering film of unbidden tears. His gut clenches as a half-laughing sob escapes from her throat.
He watches her, though the image blurs. Thinks he could do that forever and not have his fill. Later he'll wonder if that feeling is love.
"You have to come with me."
Once the words are said, she turns to back him and extends a hand.
His palm matches carefully right up against hers.
They make their way through the shimmering trees.
A/N: Am I the only one who wants to pummel Rick with a baseball bat for interrupting that scene?