I was inspired by the latest ep (4x03 Isolation) to delve into Carol's angst a bit, and considering the preview for the next, I had to pull Rick into the mix.

Enjoy, and I disclaim all rights to all stuffs!

There was blood on her hands.

Innocent blood; the blood of good and kind people.

Sick blood. Dangerous blood.

Blood that washed off her skin easy,

Blood that would dry black and condemning on her soul forever.

It would not flake.

It would not fade.

It would stain. She knew that when she did it.

It didn't make the act any less agonizing.

They were rummaging through an old schoolhouse nurse's office when he did it.

A firm hand on her elbow, freezing her own from reaching up to the cabinet she had been eyeing.


It was a whisper, far less demanding than the last time he'd said her name.

It still made her blood stop running in her veins, though, in a way that nothing else could. His voice: a promise of his leadership. A leadership she respected. A man she cared about.

Would he condemn her? Take her weapons, lock her away once they got back to the prison? Would he tell them, the council, their friends, those closest to her, the ones who would feel the shock the most?

Would he tell Daryl?

She wanted to ask him all of these things.

Instead, she stood in the shadows of the room and waited for Rick to tell her she was a terrible, cold-hearted person.

Confirmation of how she felt when the doubt set in.

He held her arm and tilted his head, blinked at her.

Hesitated, wary and probably searching for words.

She could take them, whatever they were. Words couldn't hurt her anymore. No more than fists, or death.

As long as the people she loved were safe and alive, personal pain was acceptable.

And deniable.

She was surprised when he moved instead of spoke.

Tugged at her arm, hard enough to jerk her off balance and force her to stumble forward into his chest. He let her go only long enough to fold his arms around her body, lock her into place against him like a vice. She froze for a moment, Rick's warm chest rising and falling against hers, hands skimming across her back in a silent message of understanding that slammed into her gut like a cinder block.

She choked.

God, she couldn't take it anymore and she didn't care anymore and she needed it,

She needed to break down and cry it all out.

And she did.

Bent her head into his warmth and bawled, and to her ears the sound was like a dying bat screeching as it fell from the sky. She was vaguely aware of him making sounds along with her, a steady series of "Shhh"s and accompanying sighs.

They stood and rocked on their heels together, and she cried and cried until her head hurt and the rocking began making her dizzy. Her arms climbed upward to grip his shirt, beg him to keep her from falling to the floor. Beg him to validate all of her good intentions, beg him to make it all right for her.

He held strong, but she knew he couldn't save her, even if he wanted to.

And Carol knew, as Rick pressed his lips against her temple and whispered "It's okay, it'll be okay…" that he did want to save her, that he wanted to make it okay just as sure as she wanted to make it all go away.

And that none of those things could happen.

All she could do was wipe her tears on his shirt and live with the blood she spilled.

Rick could hold her all damn day, let her cry until she grew numb, but he couldn't scrape the death out from beneath her nails.

No one could cleanse the sin from her soul.