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It has been two months since Alexandria was burned to the ground.
Two months since Daryl's home was destroyed and family torn away from him. Two months since he was separated from the love of his life, Carol. Two months since his world completely fell apart.
During these two months, he was on his own, trying hard to survive alone. It was difficult. Sure, he knew exactly how to feed himself and keep himself warm and fight off walkers, but it wasn't easy not having Carol by his side. He missed her, missed her smile, missed her teasing, missed everything about her. Everyday, he remembered how that group of men had attacked Alexandria and set it on fire. He remembered how, just before they were separated, he promised Carol that he would find her no matter what. But no matter how much he searched for her, Daryl just couldn't locate her, and it killed him each time he was unsuccessful.
Currently, Daryl was making his way back to camp from a hunt. It had started to rain - pretty heavily, too, making it tricky for him to see what where he was going. He was walking along an abandoned highway, soaked to the bone, when the tracker stopped to the sound of rustling bushes, worry seeping into his heart. But when he turned around, a gasp escaped his mouth, and tears began filling his tired eyes.
It was Carol.
She was standing only a couple of feet away from him, a squirrel in her hand. She looked beautiful, even with the water dripping down her face. She was staring at him, taking in every part of his battered body.
Finally, Daryl took action. Without thinking, he dropped his crossbow and rushed towards her, pulling her to his chest and enveloping her in a desperate hug. Tremors started to make their way up his spine as he realized that she was hugging him back. He began to sob, so many bottled up emotions coming to life. The embrace lasted for minutes, neither of them quite ready to let go yet.
Suddenly, the rain was gone, replaced by sunlight shining down on them, warming their broken hearts for the first time in months.
When Daryl did pull away, all he could do was just look at her and take her in. He still couldn't believe this was happening. Unable to help it, he crashed his mouth over hers, having missed this feeling so much. "I told ya I'd find ya," he said brokenly, resting his forehead against his own.
"I never had a doubt," Carol replied, kissing him again. "Do you have a camp?" she asked.
Nodding, Daryl replied, "Yeah. It's by the lake. No good for the rain, though. Have everythin' I need right here, anyways." He paused, letting out a heavy breath. "Who else made it out?"
"After I got out, I searched for survivors," Carol began to explain, cupping his face. "On the second day, I found Judith, alone, a couple of miles away. When I asked her where her parents were, she said she didn't know. She's back at the cabin we found, safe." A small smile graced her lips when she saw his eyes widen. "Come on. Let me take you there."
About a half hour later - which involved them walking hand in hand, unable to let go of one another - they arrived at a tiny little hut, one similar to where Daryl and Beth stayed all those years ago. The minute the door opened, and Carol announced herself, Judith came running towards them, a happy smile on her face. "Uncle Da-wal!" she cried in excitement, lunging right at him.
Daryl wasted no time in picking her up and wrapping his arms around her, having missed the feeling of this little bundle of joy. "Hey, Lil' Asskicker," he said softly, pressing a gentle kiss to her temple.
"Auntie Ca-wal told me you would come!"
A little surprised by her words, the tracker turned around to look at Carol, who just smiled. "Did she now?" he murmured, and reached out to pull her into this strange hug. The three of them were there for a while, just trying to get their brains to understand that this was real. Soon enough, though, little Judith had enough, and she began wiggling out of Daryl's strong embrace. In return, Daryl put her down and watched as she ran towards the small pile of toys she had by the couch. "God, Carol, how did you do this?" he asked in amazement.
"It's not much," Carol replied, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head against his shoulder as they watched Judith play. "I found her two days after it happened. She was hungry, and crying for her parents. Then a little while later, we found the cabin. We just cleaned it up, and then made it our own. I went out on runs, taught her what to do when she was alone, and brought anything we can use back here. I just didn't expect to find anyone out there, even though I knew that you would come back to me someday."
"Damn right," Daryl agreed. Slowly, he raised her chin up with his index finger and leaned forward. As they kissed, memories of everything that he had been through in the past two months seemed to go away, leaving him with the present, which to him was a blessing.
When they - unfortunately- pulled away, Carol looked him over for a second and said, "Are you hungry? I have some energy bars you can eat."
"Nah, I'm alright. I'd rather help you cook that squirrel."
"Sounds like a plan."
They ended up eating on the small, but comfortable, couch. When they finished, it was Judith who offered to put their dishes away, something that truly surprised Daryl. It made him briefly wonder if this was how Carol raised Sophia.
"What do we have to say to your uncle, Judith?" the woman asked as she handed the girl the plates.
Smiling brightly, Judith exclaimed, "Thank you Uncle Da-wal!"
"Yeah…," Carol agreed, interlocking their fingers together. "Thank you, Uncle Daryl."
Daryl chuckled and shook his head. "I should be thankin' you," he muttered, and kissed her again, never wanting their lips to part.
By the time the sun set and it was already dark, Judith was asleep, leaving the two of them alone to finally talk without having to worry about holding anything back.
"How did you get out?" Carol asked softly, her hand running up his strong bicep. They were now lying on the makeshift bed she had made for herself out of blankets when they first came across the cabin, staring at the ceiling above them and listening to each other's breathing.
"Got shot," Daryl answered simply. He shrugged when Carol twisted to look at him with wide eyes, reaching for his shirt and pulling it up to reveal the remnants of a bullet hole on his side. "Blacked out, made those bastards think I was dead. When I woke up, it was rainin', and I was alone. Walkers everywhere. Don't know how I got out. 'S all a haze. Jus' remember finding a cave and staying there a while. Removed the bullet, made sure it didn't get infected, then got the hell outta there. Didn't want anyone ta find me. Found another cave … few weeks later. Stayed there for a while. Then I found ya."
"Oh, Daryl," Carol breathed out. She let her fingers brush over the scar, which made Daryl flinch ever so slightly. Clearly, this was much harder for him than he let on. "I'm so sorry I wasn't there with you. I could've helped."
"'S good you wasn't there with me," the man said. "The father you were, the better. I would've waited longer if it meant that you were safe." He paused to kiss her gently before continuing. "We're here now, Carol. 'S all I care about."
"Since when did you get so poetic?" Carol joked, the tears still burning her eyes.
"Since I started lovin' you."
With a watery smile, Carol let out a laugh and leaned her head against his shoulder, breathing in his familiar scent. "Well, for the record, I love you too," she said, kissing his bare skin. "I love you so much, Daryl."
The next morning, Carol woke up in Daryl's familiar arms, feeling more refreshed than she had in a long time. She looked up at her sleeping companion, only to frown at the dark circles under his eyes.
"Stop starin', will ya?" the man muttered, startling Carol and making her smile.
How do you always know?" she asked with a kiss to his cheek.
"Jus' do," Daryl replied as he raised his hand to cup her face gently, studying her features intently. "Ya know how much I missed ya, right?"
"I know. And I missed you, too … Pookie." Carol laughed when Daryl rolled his eyes in annoyance. "What, you thought I forgot about that?" she teased.
"Maybe … a bit," Daryl confessed, resting his forehead against his own. "Nothin' wrong with hopin'." He finally kissed her, having already begun to miss her lips. He was just starting to lift up Carol's shirt when a sudden voice rang through the silence of the cabin.
"Uncle Da-wal! Auntie Ca-wal!"
A second later, Judith was sitting on Daryl's chest, smiling and giggling wildly.
"Hey, Lil' Asskicker," he said softly, feeling Carol nuzzle her face against his shoulder. "'S up?"
"I'm hungry!" the girl explained, basically jittering with fresh morning energy.
"Well, let's make you some food, then," Carol decided. She pressed a gentle kiss to his lips before getting out of their bed and heading over to the kitchen, where she began preparing some instant oatmeal - one of the few things she managed to take with her when Alexandria was being destroyed. She watched as Daryl took to playing with Judith while she cooked; she couldn't help but look at them every once in a while, admiring the beautiful picture in front of her. Daryl was just so good with kids. Even though he would never admit it, he had such a big knack for children, especially for Judith. It warmed her heart and brought a smile to her face every time.
Like the night before, they ate on the couch.
"'S good, Carol," Daryl praised with a peck on her lips. "Thanks." He paused and looked at Judith, who had already finished and was now playing with her toys. "Do you have anythin' to say to your Aunt, Lil' Asskicker?"
"Thank you, Auntie Ca-wal!" Judith cried.
Carol grinned, noticing how Daryl used the same tactic she had used yesterday.
"Think 'm gonna go on a hunt today," Daryl said after a couple minutes of just watching a certain blonde girl play. "Wanna start stockin' up. Wanna start buildin' a wall 'round the cabin for protection, too."
"That's a good idea," Carol agreed, wrapping an arm around his own and leaning against him. "When are you leaving?"
"Couple hours," Daryl replied. After receiving a small nod from Carol, they both fell silent, reveling in each other's company. Suddenly, Daryl had the urge to ask, "Did you search for her Rick and 'Chone?"
For a second, Carol was caught off guard. "I did," she said when she regained her composure. "After I found Judith, I spent a day looking for them, but found nothing."
"But ya didn't find any bodies?" Daryl questioned, a hint of hope lacing his words.
"No," Carol said. "So that might mean that they're still out there…"
"An' that 'm can still find 'em," the tracker finished, eyes shining with the possibility of locating his best friend and reuniting him and his wife with their kid. He kissed Carol out of pure happiness, pulling her against his chest and hugging her tighter.
They pulled away laughing at Judith's comment and smiled at one another.
"Might as well go now, right?" Daryl offered, feeling incredibly anxious to start looking for the two people - besides Carol - that he had developed so much love for.
"Stay safe, alright?" Carol warned, pulling him closer to give him one more kiss for luck.
"Nine lives, 'member?"