A/N: this chapter was a bit of a challenge - to bring these two together again after such a hurt was no easy thing, and the Muses were being fickle - what finally helped break the stuck was a song from HappyBlueInk's Caryl playlist, Land Locked Blues by Bright Eyes - something about this kind just helped in the end - but music is such an important part of our lives, I think in the ZA I would miss my iPod the most - hope you enjoy, and as always, thank you for the reads and review - I love you all - and I hope that the next update will come along a bit easier, now that tension is broken a bit.
The Walking Dead and identifiable characters, places, and events are not mine - no infringement is intended or implied - my stories are written out of love and a need to create and are solely for entertainment purposes
Despite retiring early, sleep eluded her through the night. At the first sign of morning, well before dawn, when the birds begin to sing, she rose. She needed to take a walk and clear her head. For a moment she almost forgot the world she lived in now. Halfway across the camp, she turned back and found a long metal pole that she could use both as a walking stick and to defend herself if needed.
She'd been practicing shooting with some of the guys, but she didn't feel confident enough to carry a gun on her own, let alone respond quickly with it. A knife was too intimate, she wasn't ready to let a walker get that close. So the pole was her best option. At least for now. If her luck held, it would merely be a precaution.
As she left the center of camp, she passed by T-Dog, sitting watch on a log, looking out across the same meadow she had gone worm hunting with Shane. "Morning T," she called softly but clearly so as not to startle him.
"Morning Carol," he returned
She came up to stand beside him looking out over the open space. "Been quiet?"
He turned to look at her. "Rick had a straggler last night. Stumbling on its own. Stragglers always make me nervous the next day." He turned something about in his hands as he looked out over the field. She drew near and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"She loved you, T."
"Not enough apparently," he whispered.
"You kept your word, not many men I know have done that, or will do that when they are called upon. But you did." She let her hand rub along his back. It was a deep hurt.
"I should have fought her."
"You made her a promise at the quarry, you loved her enough to keep it. There is no reason to regret the things you did out of love. You told me you talked that night before. You had your peace with her."
He nodded. 'When Jacqui gave me her stone that night, I knew. She was through with her worry."
"Jacqui was the strongest woman I ever knew, she was fighting a lot. She finally had a say." She brought her arm around his shoulder and gave him a hug. It would never be enough, she knew, but it was something. A little touch in the darkness is sometimes all it takes to keep going. She pulled away from him and patted his back.
"I'm going for a walk this morning, if anyone comes looking for me. I'll be back after a while. I'll follow the stream, just so you know."
He turned to look at her. "Will you be okay alone, or do you need some company? I can get someone to take watch for me and I'd go with you if you like."
"No, I'll be fine. Especially if I know you are keeping watch." She smiled at him and patted his back twice. "You take care of yourself, especially that heart of yours." She moved in the direction of the stream, but turned back to holler back him. "I love you T, don't forget that!"
She followed the stream that led away from the camp. She would not get lost that way and the sound of flowing water would be a soothing backdrop to her thoughts. She needed something to move them along. After last night she was even more conflicted.
It was one thing to have desire for someone. To see them from a distance and wonder. Quite another to be wanted and to be shown in clear terms that desire is mutual. In that sense, Shane was uncomplicated. He left no room for doubt.
As she picked her way along the the fishing trail that followed the stream, she moved slowly. Cautious of every movement, wary of every sound. It was so still here. Untouched quiet.
The fishing camp was more ideal than most places. Situated so that it kept them more isolated from the two nearby herds than other locations would have. But it was not secure for long, they could see that much. Another two to three weeks and they would be vulnerable, that was if the herds held their course. Longer if they did not.
It meant they would have to move soon and find a more secure and lasting place to spend the winter. Which meant that she had to figure things out as well. Likely their new situation would have them in close quarters and if she wasn't careful, it might be a very uncomfortable winter.
She watched the sunrise with interest. It seemed much more beautiful to her now than it ever had before. Was it because there was less pollution in the air? Or was it that even little things seemed more special now? To wake and watch the sun rise and count yourself among the living for one more day might have been part of it too.
She'd been walking for awhile when she came to a widening in the stream. The banks expanded here because the stream flow around a large flat rock in the middle of it. The rock had stood its ground and the water just flowed on. Rather much like the man now perched there.
As she approached from the distance, she knew it was him. His was hunched over staring at the water, his hands braced at the edge of the rock and his feet dangling into the water. He did not look up as she approached, though she was sure he'd heard her. Likely he'd seen her approaching long before she saw him. It was not until she reached the edge of the stream, just near the rock, that he looked at her, but he didn't say a word.
She kicked off her boots and laid the pole and pack down. She took care in crossing the water to crawl up next to him on the rock. Even though it only came up just past her ankles it was rocky. It was also rather cold. It was early morning, and it was also early fall. It felt good, but it gave her a slight chill. The rock was large enough for three to sit comfortably. It was wide and flat and rose out of the water just slightly, enough to dangle your feet into the watert. It was a lovely spot to sit and think.
She pulled her legs up to her chest, letting her feel rest firmly on the rock. She could feel him behind her, almost close enough to touch. They let the silence sit between them for awhile. Neither saying a word. Their steady breathing the only sounds outside of nature.
When he spoke it was only one word, "Shane."
It wasn't an accusation or a question. It was simply a statement of fact. She considered a minute and waited before replying, "Daryl."
There was a catch in his voice and a scoff. "Choice?" This time, there was the edge of a question.
She didn't hesitate. "Doubt."
This time he chuckled uncomfortably. "The choice or me?"
"Myself." She sighed and let her feet slide off the rock and dangle into the water.
There was nothing between them. A mere three inches of air at most, and yet to her, he felt miles away. And she felt like she'd pushed him there. They had built what relationship they had slowly. Comfort levels and trusts that were not freely given on first attempt or even second.
She sighed and leaned forward, peering at her reflection in the water. This was her life. It was all she had to work with and if she didn't make the best of it, no one else could be to blame. She did not expect him to understand. They were very different people.
It was easy to say they were the same, that they came to this life now as damaged people. But damage did not make them twins, did not give them the same heart or the same mind.
It was an impossible situation this. She could see no way through it. She felt the water swirling around her feet, heard the rush of it as it hit the rock. Be the river. It really was that simple wasn't it?
This rock stood its ground and the river flowed around it. Instead of trying to do the impossible, she would just work with what she had. She would flow over this obstacle and life would continue on. In a hundred years both they and likely the rock would be gone. That was not the fate of the walker world, but the truth of human existence. Just as surely as the river would wear down the rock, so too would their lives end. They only had now. And they had this moment on this rock.
She came to sit straight again after gazing into the river, and as she did, she came into contact with his back. He had shifted, moved closer to her. Had felt her pull forward and had naturally eased back, following her to keep the distance. He was startled by her sudden contact and froze. He seemed tense against her back. She pressed gently with her back against him. He leaned forward some but did not break contact.
"It was out of character for you," she offered suddenly, not sure why she did.
"But not for Shane?" he countered.
"No, not for Shane."
"Expected of Shane?"
"Not expected of you."
"So must be Shane."
"Odds to Shane."
"Is that all I am? A fuckin' numbers game to ya?"
She sighed. "No, never."
"But your words are game words." He sighed and she felt his shoulder slump. "I dunno. I guess I thought..."
She listened, feeling a sudden heaviness in her heart.
"...I thought we had an understanding. I'm not good with words, Carol. I never have been."
She sat in silence confused. The understanding of which he spoke was tenuous at best. She was suddenly resentful. Was she to make connections between his fragmented affections and come to the same understanding?
As she sat with the feeling of this moment, they felt even more broken than before. She took a deep breath, trying to come back to the conversation, as it was.
"Just what did you understand?" she asked quietly.
She felt him adjust against her, sitting straighter, but not breaking contact with her back. He softened a little. "Hell, I dunno, I didn't think I had to declare myself to ya." She felt him pull away from her and slide off the rock into the water. "Ya best get back Carol. They're probably wondering where ya got yourself off to."
He came to her side and offered his hand to help steady her. She came off the rock and stood there for a moment, holding his hand, letting the water swirl around them. He kept his eyes fixed at a point on the bank, but he didn't let go of her hand.
He spoke unexpectedly, avoiding eye contact. "Just know, whatever you decide, I won't fight him for ya. It isn't my way. If ya don't know how I feel about ya, I'm not gonna waste my time making ya see." He paused, moving to the bank. Stepping up first and steadying her as she came out of the water. "And if ya think I'll stop coming around just because ya wanna fuck Shane, ya don't understand me at all."
He dropped her hand and stooped to adjust some items in his pack and she caught a flash of pink.
His words stung her a bit. "Are you going to make this about getting laid?"
He rose keeping his back to her. "You're not?"
"It was just a kiss, nothing more."
He turned slowly to face her, dropping his head slightly to the right, searching her eyes. "But I didn't kiss you." He shouldered his pack and walked off in the opposite direction of the camp.
"Tell Rick I'll be back tonight. And tell Shane congratulations."