Summary: No one knows Daryl better than Carol, but somehow, after everything they’ve been through, he still surprises her. Like, for example, falling in love with someone completely wrong for him. At least, that’s what she thinks. But even if she likes to believe she does, Carol doesn’t know everything.
(A/N: Here it is! The Carol POV Daryl x Reader fic! I had such a good time digging into Carol’s character for this one. Although, because it’s Carol, this story is darker than a lot of my others. It ends happily, but be warned for some serious angst ahead.)
Nobody really knows Daryl Dixon.
He’s like a locked box wrapped in barbed wire in the corner of a soundproofed room. Only a few people have gotten close to him; he’s only let a few people in. But even they don’t know the whole truth of the man they call an ally, a friend, and a brother. He holds his cards close to his chest, only showing one here and another there, but never giving away his hand.
If you asked around, “Who knows Daryl best?,” the answer would be Carol. She’s known him longest, cared for him like a sister, fought for him like family, and listened to him like a best friend. She knows how his daddy used to beat him, she knows he’s been a survivor long before the end of the world, she knows he liked Saturday morning cartoons when he was a kid, and she knows he has the best heart of any man she’s ever known.
But there are parts of him that remain a mystery, even to her. After almost a decade, after everything, he still surprises her.
Carol and Daryl walk down the street, returning from an unsuccessful hunting trip to the house they share with Michonne, Dog trotting alongside. The sun is shining, but the air is cold. The snow has melted, but the trees are still bare. Winter is over, but spring hasn’t quite begun.
Carol turns to look at the community green as they pass, staring across the training space Aaron has spent the last few years building. The sparring area is empty, but she sees two figures by the archery range with bows in hand.
Y/N and Lydia.
Carol watches them as she and Daryl keep walking, their route down the street bringing them around the green and closer to the range.
Y/N’s bow is raised, and arrow notched and ready. Carol can hear the tones of her voice, clear and confident even though Carol can’t quite make out the words. Y/N nods to Lydia, who does her best to mimic the archer’s stance. Once Lydia’s bow is lifted, Y/N lowers her own and returns the arrow to her quiver while she corrects Lydia’s placement.
Carol can see now, moving closer, that there are several arrows already lodged in the target and on the grass beyond, embedded anywhere but the center of the bullseye.
Without thinking about it, Carol and Daryl stop to watch as Y/N takes Lydia through a deep breath, exaggerating the motion of her own inhale and exhale. Seemingly satisfied, Y/N nods. Lydia takes another breath. Then she lets the arrow fly, the wood whistling through the air.
It hits dead center.
Lydia stands frozen for a second in disbelief before she breaks into triumph, jumping and whooping in delight. Carol blinks, her chest twinging. She’s never seen Lydia joyful before. At best, they have met in stilted awkwardness. At worst, in desperate grief. Her exhilarated smile knocks Carol off-balance, and a dark emotion twists in her stomach.
How can Lydia be happy, when Carol still feels that gaping hole inside her chest?
“Holy shit! Did you see that?” Lydia exclaims.
“Very nice!” Y/N praises, raising a hand and receiving a high-five so enthusiastic Carol can feel the echo of their hands connecting inside her ribs.
Dog, who sits at attention by Daryl’s feet, barks. Lydia turns around, eyes searching for the noise. She sees them then, her smile dimming slightly and Carol’s chest twinges again (because it’s her fault; Lydia never smiles when Carol is there).
Y/N turns too, following Lydia’s gaze. Her smile grows. She has a beautiful smile. It was the first thing Carol noticed about her. Y/N has the kind of smile that makes you feel warm and cared for. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Y/N wasn’t already beautiful to begin with. That smile just makes her glow. Carol hates it.
“You been coaching her behind my back, Daryl?” Y/N calls.
“Nah,” Daryl calls back, and Carol’s stomach drops slightly in surprise at the smile on his face. “‘Guess she’s jus’ a natural.”
“Guess so,” Y/N agrees, turning back to Lydia and patting her shoulder. “But even naturals gotta practice. Come on.”
As Y/N and Lydia head to retrieve the arrows from the target, Carol continues on her way back to the house. She makes it three steps before she realizes Daryl hasn’t moved. Daryl doesn’t look at her, his gaze on the archery range as he chews on his bottom lip.
“You coming or what?”
He glances at her without really looking before turning back towards the green. “‘M gonna wait ‘til they’re done. You go on ahead.”
Again, Carol feels that drop of surprise. Not liking it very much, she adjusts the straps of the bag at her back.
“I’ll stay too, then.” She says, cringing internally at how petulant it sounds.
Daryl lets out a huff that Carol knows means “alright,” and sits down on a bench at the edge of the green. Daryl can’t sit normally, ever, so he perches on the backrest with his feet up on the seat. He clicks his tongue, and Dog lays obediently down beside the bench. Carol settles next to Daryl, her shoulder parallel with his knee. His jeans have torn again, the patch he’d sewn on ripped in half.
She bumps him with her shoulder. “Should patch that up before you get hypothermia.”
“It makes you look like a moody teenager,” She scoffs. “Can’t believe people used to pay money for jeans that already had holes in them.”
Daryl huffs again, this time the one that’s as close to laughter as he ever gets. But he doesn’t continue the conversation. He just lets the silence settle, his gaze on the archery range.
For some reason, Carol feels a pang of rejection in her chest. She shoves it away, turning to watch Lydia and Y/N practice. They’ve gotten all their arrows back, and Lydia is lifting her bow again.
Y/N encourages her quietly before stepping back to give Lydia space. She smiles softly as Lydia takes a breath. The arrow flies, but lands slightly left of center.
Lydia sags, disappointed.
But Y/N nods. “Good. Again, and keep your wrist steady.”
Daryl shifts beside Carol, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees as he watches them. Carol watches him for a second, brows drawing together. She looks back at the girls in time to see Lydia hit the bullseye.
She exclaims in happiness, looking for approval, but Y/N remains calm this time.
“Split the arrow.” Y/N says.
“What?” Lydia shakes her head. “I can’t do that.”
“Yes,” Y/N smiles again, putting a hand on Lydia’s shoulder. “You can.”
She lets go and steps back, gesturing towards the target. Carol recognizes the look that passes over Lydia’s face– determination. She raises the bow and fires, the arrow hitting three inches too high.
“You can.” Y/N repeats. “Breathe.”
Lydia sighs, but lifts the bow again. She slows down this time. Carol sees her shoulders rise and fall with a deep breath. The arrow whistles through the air.
It splits the first one down the middle with a crack, leaving splinters of wood and feather fluttering to the ground. Lydia grins again, big and wide.
Carol isn’t surprised. Apart from being the best longbow archer Kingdom had to offer, Y/N was also a good teacher. She’d taught Carol, years ago now, how to hit a moving walker between the eyes from ten feet away. And Carol hadn’t been an easy student.
Carol had already survived long enough, grown out of the woman who feared her husband’s shadow and into the woman she’d always been inside. She’d learned to shoot a gun (several different kinds, in fact), learned to use a knife, learned to track and hunt, and learned to make the tough decisions. She’d killed more people than she could count on both her hands. She’d left and she’d come back.
When she ended up at Kingdom again, as a queen, she thought she could figure anything out by herself.
But Ezekiel and his big, corny heart decided to give her a tutor. Carol knew he was trying to give her a gift– private lessons from his best archer and one of his most trusted friends. Only to Carol, it felt like being handed off to a babysitter. Ezekiel was only trying to help, and their love was so new and Carol liked how sweet he was, so she took out her frustration on Y/N.
Carol told her she wasn’t needed, that she could attend to whatever duties she had. Y/N stayed. Carol purposefully ignored her instructions, working on instinct instead. She hit the target, but never where she was aiming. Y/N continued teaching. Carol told her, to her face, that she didn’t want her help. Y/N smiled sadly and nodded, stepping back to watch. But she didn’t leave. She stayed and watched Carol miss, and miss, and miss, and miss until she threw the bow down and stalked away.
The next day, Y/N was waiting at the range. Carol kept her chin high and said nothing. Y/N simply started the lesson. And Carol started hitting bullseyes.
“Nice shot,” Y/N looks from the split arrow to Lydia, smiling.
Excited, Lydia turns back to the target, but Y/N speaks first.
“I think that’s enough for today.”
“We’ll pick up here again tomorrow.” Y/N reaches out and gently takes the bow from Lydia’s grasp. “It’s getting late.”
As they gather the arrows again, Carol stands from the bench, ready to finally finish the trek home. Daryl takes his time, standing as Lydia and Y/N approach.
“Not bad, kid.” He nods, and Lydia casts her gaze away (though Carol can see the pride in her eyes).
“She’s a fast learner.” Y/N pats Lydia’s shoulder. “It won’t be long before she’s better than me.”
Lydia rolls her eyes. “I split one arrow. She can probably split a hundred with her eyes closed.”
“That’s just a waste of wood.” Y/N says.
“Dunno ‘bout a hundred arrows, but I’ve seen her get a white rabbit in the snow from twenty feet back.” Daryl says
Lydia’s eyes widen and she turns to stare at Y/N. “Really?”
Carol, on the other hand, can’t tear her gaze away from Daryl. He’s smiling again, in that small way he reserves for his friends, his blue eyes bright as he and Y/N look at each other. He looks relaxed, one arm at his side, the other resting on the crossbow strap at his chest.
He feels at ease. He trusts her. He cares about her.
Y/N’s laugh draws Carol’s gaze. She’s glowing again, effortlessly kind and beautiful as she shakes her head.
“He’s exaggerating. It was more like seventeen feet.” She said, “Besides, that same day I saw him get a walker between the eyes without even looking.”
Daryl scoffs, his fingers playing at the fabric of the strap across his chest. He hates praise. Carol loves to compliment him, just to see him get flustered. This time, though, she’s not enjoying the sight of his pink-tinted cheeks.
Because last she checked, Y/N and Daryl don’t know each other. Not enough to have stories about rabbits and snow storms. They’ve met, sure, maybe they’ve talked. But as far as she thought she knew, they’re not friends.
Daryl doesn’t have friends except for her, not with Rick and Glenn dead, not with Maggie gone. There’s Michonne, but she doesn’t know them like they know each other.
It’s just them. Carol and Daryl.
Carol cleared her throat, and all three heads turned, remembering her presence.
“We shouldn’t keep you, Y/N,” She says, adopting her sweet, PTA-mom tone, “It’s getting on dinner time.”
Y/N’s smile faltered for just a second, before returning in all its glow. “You’re right. I’ll let you get back home.”
Daryl’s own smile fades into his usual closed-off expression. His gaze drops to the ground as he gives a small nod in goodbye. Carol turns and starts walking, feeling an inexplicable anger beginning to boil in her stomach.
Daryl and Lydia and Dog all follow, but she barely notices them beyond the heat spreading through her body.
Her thoughts are spiralling at about a hundred miles an hour, all through the walk home, all through dinner where she sits silent and pretends to listen to Judith chattering and RJ laughing and ignores the concerned looks Daryl sends her way.
Because he’s been lying to her.
She puts the pieces together one by one.
Carol knows they met at Kingdom. After she’d run away, finding solace in that little house; after he’d escaped the Sanctuary and needed somewhere safe to hide. She knows they met, because Y/N wouldn’t have allowed him far without introducing herself.
She’s like that. Friendly, and kind, even when Daryl must have looked like a feral dog, suddenly free and ready to snap at any hand, even the ones that fed him.
They might have crossed paths again, once, maybe twice, during the war. But Y/N was fighting for Kingdom, and Daryl was fighting to win.
After the war, they might have met again to build the bridge. Y/N was there. She believed, like Rick, that it could heal them. Carol remembers seeing them working next to each other, she remembers hearing Y/N laugh at something Aaron said. But then it all fell apart and their worlds separated again.
Carol thought, during those six years after Rick’s death, that she was the only one who knew where Daryl was. She visited him by herself, and except for Dog, he was always alone in his camp. He never said anything about seeing anyone else.
It had to have been then.
Carol knew Y/N went out hunting. She’d even encouraged it. A good queen knows to take advantage of her best resources. Y/N went out, and she always came back with something. Carol had been proud then, grateful, for how the younger woman provided and cared for their community.
Now, Carol was angry.
All that time in the woods, all those trips beyond the Kingdom, she was with Daryl. They must have met hundreds of times. Clearly, they’d hunted together. They’d fought together. Who was to say what else they might have done together?
At the very least, a trust had developed. A friendship, even. Enough that Y/N chose to leave her people and travel with them beyond Hilltop and back to Alexandria after the storm.
But it doesn’t make any sense. They’re so different, Daryl and Y/N.
Carol understands Daryl. They both know what it is to be under someone else’s power. They both know what it is to be small, to have nothing. They both know what it is to lose the ones they love most. They both know what it is to live with themselves.
What does Y/N know? She can shoot a bow, she can teach a class, she can smile and make someone feel wanted and loved. But what does she know of loss?
Carol knows, from a few conversations with her and Jerry and Ezekiel, that she has lived a lucky life. Loving parents, happy childhood, grew up with friends, did well in school. She was in law school when the apocalypse hit, with dreams of becoming an environmental lawyer. She wanted to make a difference.
It’s funny, Carol thinks, how those who don’t have to save themselves can dream of saving the world.
Y/N never spoke about a spouse or a family, she wasn’t haunted by loss the way Carol was. The children she couldn’t protect– Lizzie, Mika, Henry, Sophia. No wonder Y/N was friendly and warm and open, she didn’t know what it was to get hurt, truly hurt. To grow accustomed to a person like an extension of yourself, only to have them ripped away.
She stands up, her chair scraping noisily against the floor. The rest of the table quiets, staring at her. They’ve been waiting for a moment like this, she thinks, for when the cracked woman finally breaks.
She refuses to give them what they want.
“I’m tired.” She declares flatly. “I think I’ll turn in for the night.”
Carol turns and leaves without a word. As she reaches the stairs, starting the climb to her attic room, she can hear the skid of another chair being pushed out.
“I got’t.” Daryl rasps.
One part of her is glad he follows, validated and assured that he still cares. The other part rages at him, ready to scream and fight.
When she enters her room and he silently follows, shutting the door behind him with a gentle click, the angry part wins out.
“When were you going to tell me?” She asks, her voice as cold as the air outside.
“Tell ya what?”
“About your little hunting trips with her.” Carol spat.
Daryl closes himself off, then, his expression falling from open concern to guarded realization.
“Ain’t gotta tell ya everythin’,” He says, shoulders tense and defensive.
“Are you kidding me?” She scoffs, almost wanting to laugh. “No, Daryl, you don’t. But this isn’t what you had for breakfast this morning.”
He’s quiet, jaw tightly clenched. She feels a petty flare of satisfaction because he knows it was wrong not to tell her. She’s right, and he knows it.
“How long?” She doesn’t ask. She demands.
Daryl hesitates a second, the muscle in his jaw ticking.
“Started a couple a’months after I set up camp.” He admits. “She came through while I was out one day, didn’ know’t was mine an’ left a couple a’cans a’food an’ a note with directions to Kingdom.”
Carol rolls her eyes. Of course she did.
“Ran into each other in th’woods ‘bout a month after.” Daryl shrugged one shoulder. “Kinda jus’ kept runnin’ into each other after that.”
He doesn’t meet her gaze, and she knows she’s got him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Daryl makes eye contact then, something flashing behind the sky blue of his irises. His shoulders straighten.
“Why don’ya like her?” He fires back.
Carol’s stomach swoops at the direct address, the question hitting her straight in the chest. She blinks, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
“I like her,” She insists, but it sounds hollow even to her own ears. “Jesus, Daryl, I practically lived with her for six years.”
“But ya don’ like her.” He says. “She knows ya don’ like her. Asked me if I knew why, if she’d done somethin’ t’ya an’ didn’ know’t.”
“She hasn’t done anything.” Carol huffs, feeling agitated.
“Then why’re ya so cold t’her all th’time?” He presses, and Carol doesn’t like the turn their conversation has taken. “Y’know, th’two a’ya are more alike than y’think.”
That does it.
“No we’re not!” Carol shouts. “She’s not like us, Daryl. She’s not a survivor.”
He frowns, opening his mouth to argue, but Carol cuts him off. She feels like she’s slipping on her words, losing ground and losing meaning.
“She knows how to stay alive, but she’s not a survivor. Not like you and me. She doesn’t understand.”
“Y’ain’t th’only one that’s been through shit.” He sounds angry now.
Shame rears up inside of her, because he’s fed up. And he’s fed up with her. Shame and sadness surge, but she refuses to let them show. Instead, she stays angry.
“Why do you keep defending her?” Carol shouts, a kind of desperate amusement in her voice. “What, you got a crush on her or something?”
The silence that follows is more of an answer than he could ever put into words. Carol can see the truth written on his face– in the soft look in his eyes and the resigned set of his mouth. He cares about her, he really, really cares about her.
And Carol never realized it until this moment.
“Daryl,” She tries again, soft and apologetic.
“Nah.” He shakes his head. “‘M done.”
He leaves, shutting the door behind him. And Carol is left with her guilt.
Carol knows Daryl Dixon better than anyone.
But as she sits and watches him with Y/N, she realizes that knowing someone and seeing them are two very different things. He never told her how he felt about the other archer, but if Carol had taken more than a day or two to visit him or if she hadn’t been so wrapped up in her own sorrow after coming home again she would have seen.
She sees it now.
It’s in the way he jogs to meet her as she arrives back from a week-long scavenging hunt, offering to help carry things into the pantry (though the way he looks her over for signs of injury reveal his intentions clear as day).
It’s in the way he smiles at her while she throws a stick across the lawn for Dog to chase. Daryl wrestles it out of Dog’s mouth when he brings it back before handing it back to her to throw again. She accepts with one of those glowing smiles before turning and chucking it away again, calling “go get it, boy!”
It’s in the way he lets her drive his motorcycle. He sits her down in front before settling behind her, his arms bracing her sides and his hands over hers on the handlebars. He shows her how to start the engine and she jumps a little when it roars to life. He moves one arm to wrap around her waist, a silent “I got you,” before they’re speeding off down the stretch of empty road.
It’s in the way they walk together. Coming home from a hunting trip with their bows on their backs and a string of rabbits in Daryl’s hand, they walk side-by-side down the street. She says something, smiling, and bumps his arm gently with her shoulder. He shakes his head, smiling too, before he bumps her shoulder back. She laughs, and his smile grows.
It’s in the way he holds her. After news arrives of a scavenging trip gone wrong outside Hilltop, of three from Kingdom dead, her face falls into grief and she rushes away from the messenger and the gathered crowd. Daryl follows, stopping her between the shadows of two neighboring houses. His hands are on her shoulders, his head bent to catch her eyes as he speaks softly. She shakes her head, reaching up to swipe at the tears on her cheeks as if they were nuisances. He pulls her to his chest, his arms wrapped tightly around her. She hugs him back, her head dropping to his shoulder. He holds her until she calms and pulls away with a soft look of embarrassment and gratitude.
It’s all so obvious now.
He’s in love with her.
And all Carol can feel is guilt. Because it was right there in front of her, but she never bothered to stop and see it. She always told herself that if Daryl found someone in this world, she would be supportive. Daryl is her best friend, her brother, her one constant. She owes him her support.
Even if it’s Y/N. Even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if it hurts a little to know he cares about someone else as much as he cares about her.
So Carol asked Y/N if she’d like to travel with her to Hilltop to pay their respects to the fallen members of Kingdom. Carol felt the ache of the lives lost too, even though she didn’t shed tears. They were her people too.
Y/N was her people, once.
She’d forgotten that, somewhere in her grief and her jealousy, that Y/N had protected Kingdom, and had respected Carol as queen. Y/N lived there long before the seven years Carol spent there. She had friendships and loyalties and history. And though Y/N was too easy with her smiles, too warm, too sweet, and too trusting, she was capable.
They’re making good time, riding through the forest on horseback. They should arrive in time for the burial at sundown.
They don’t talk much as they wind through the trees, and Carol is grateful. She isn’t sure what to say to her. She never really knew how to handle Y/N’s bright friendliness, and now that she’s seen Daryl’s love for her, Carol has no idea how to talk to her.
She’s not sure if she should act as though she knows nothing and let them work it out. She’s not sure if she should try to draw out Y/N’s feelings for Daryl (she suspects they’re there, but perhaps not as intense as his). She’s not sure if she should intimidate her, warn her to be careful with his heart now that she has it.
But Y/N is quiet, her expression drawn in solemn thought. Carol leaves her be. The silence is far more comfortable, anyway.
Until a gunshot rings out, the sound breaking the quiet stillness of the woods. The bullet rips through the neck of Y/N’s horse, blood spraying as the animal falls and takes his rider with him. Carol barely has time to react as her own horse spooks, reeling backwards onto its hind legs.
“Woah, girl, wait–” She flings her arms out to calm the creature, but it’s too late.
The horse bucks, and Carol is thrown to the ground. She manages to tuck and roll a bit, just narrowly avoiding breaking her leg. The horse bolts off through the trees, her hoofbeats hard and fast. Carol rolls onto her stomach, groaning at the soreness in her side.
She’s getting too old for this shit.
Y/N’s horse lies on the ground, its body still. From this angle, Carol can’t see past its large flank.
“Y/N!” She hisses.
Glancing out into the woods, Carol looks for any sign of who shot at them. No more shots have been fired, and she sees nothing but trees and more trees, but someone is out there.
“I’m okay,” Y/N’s voice, sounding shaky, “I’m okay, I’m just–”
She cries out, and it sounds partly strained and partly painful. Carol starts to crawl, keeping low and staying vigilant as she moves closer to the dead horse.
“The horse fell on my leg.” Y/N says, “I can’t–I’m trying to lift it.”
Carol gets around to the other side. Y/N is trapped, her left leg lodged beneath the horse. Her right foot is braced against his back and her hands are scrambling to lift the body enough to slide her leg out, but she doesn’t have enough leverage.
“Here,” Carol gets her hands underneath the horse’s still-warm body. “I’ll lift, you pull.”
She braces her shoulder against its back and pulls and pushes at the same time, straining against the weight. Y/N moves her hands to her leg, crying out again (fully in pain this time) as she pulls herself free. Y/N collapses, breathing heavily, as Carol drops the carcass.
Somewhere over her shoulder (and much too close for comfort), Carol hears the crunch of dead leaves underfoot. She turns, just time for the butt of a rifle to slam into her forehead. The asshole nails her right between the eyebrows, and she goes down hard. She’s conscious just long enough to register the sensation of falling before the world turns to darkness.
Carol wakes up to a nasty headache. Her head has been hanging down, her chin resting against her chest. When she lifts her head, she hears several pops along her spine accompanied by her own groan of pain and stiffness.
She’s definitely getting too old for this shit.
“Carol,” A familiar voice calls, quiet but laced with urgency.
Carol blinks, bleary from unconsciousness. There’s a fluorescent bulb overhead, bright and blurry. She squints, taking in the rest of the room. It’s small, only six square feet in area. The walls are dirty, once painted light green maybe but turned vomit-colored by rust and mold. She tries to move, but her hands are tied behind her back, wrists looped around an old pipe. Across the filthy and cracked floor, Y/N is tied to an old radiator. The light above their heads casts shadows on her face, deepening the dark circles under her eyes. There’s a nasty bruise on her cheekbone.
Her gaze searches Carol’s face. “You okay?”
“Where the hell are we?”
Carol shifts her arms, ignoring the uncomfortable backwards angle, searching along the pipe for a crack or a nail to cut the rope. Y/N has already found a loose bolt on the radiator and is sawing at her own bonds.
“An old warehouse. The one off of 95.” Y/N says. “I woke up while they were dragging us here, but I knew I couldn’t handle them without you so I stayed down and listened.”
Carol was feeling more and more awake, her survival instincts kicking in. “How many?”
“Three.” Y/N says. “Two men, one woman. The guy who knocked us out is the youngest, I think he’s the woman’s brother. His name is Jason. The others are Katie and Dave. I think Jason is our best shot. He doesn’t want to kill us, and I think if we can talk to him, we’ll get him to let us go.”
“What about the other two?”
“Katie wanted to kill us back in the woods. Dave thinks he can get us to talk and lead him to our group. He already tried with me, and it didn’t work.” She explains, “But Jason has already been arguing for letting us go. He said he’d be back soon with water. I think we can get through to him.”
Carol’s head hurts too much for this. How long has the world been like this? Ten years? And Y/N still hasn’t wised up.
Carol shakes her head. “If we leave them alive, they’ll just come after us.”
“Not necessarily.” Y/N argues.
“They’re trying to survive,” Carol hisses, frustration rising in her chest. “You think your show of mercy will stop them from finding Alexandria? From attacking Hilltop? If you think they’ll just throw in the towel because you flashed one of those nice smiles, then you’re not just naive, you’re downright stupid.”
The rope around Y/N’s wrists snaps. It’s the only sound in the room, a sudden reply to Carol’s outburst. Carol breathes heavily, her face warm from the outburst as the anger fades. Y/N’s expression is carefully guarded, and Carol recognizes the look– a woman who refuses to show her hurt.
With her hands free, she stands and limps over to Carol. She kneels, putting her weight onto her right leg as she works to untie Carol’s hands.
“It’s not naivety.” Y/N says, her tone subdued as the rope loosens and falls. “It’s hope.”
“Whatever it is, it’s going to get us killed.” Carol says, rubbing her scraped wrists.
She doesn’t have the luxury of sugar-coating. She can’t afford to humor Y/N’s young ideals. It’s kill or be killed, plain and simple.
“Fine. We do it your way.” Y/N’s tone is cold and calm, but her eyes flash as they meet Carol’s. “But for the record, you can survive on mistrust and ruthlessness, but that isn’t the same as living. Hope is what keeps us alive.”
Carol feels a twinge in her chest. Y/N’s words sound haunted, spoken from dark, damaging experience. Carol feels the weight of that experience within her. Something happened to Y/N, something big.
But they can’t afford to sit around and have a heart-to-heart.
“Get by the door.” Carol instructs. “We ambush whoever opens it, take their weapons, and get to work.”
Y/N nods, limping over to flatten herself against the wall by the door. “As far as I could tell, they all have knives, but just one rifle. And our stuff, too.”
Carol can work with that. She’s done more with less.
They wait maybe another five minutes, standing in tense silence, until they hear the echo of footsteps approaching the door. It must be Jason, the younger one, because the idiot actually knocks on the door before he opens it.
Carol is on him in an instant, slamming an elbow into his temple and hooking a foot around his knee. He falls to the ground, disoriented and in pain. Carol and Y/N move quickly, Carol sliding the knife from his belt while Y/N grabs a smaller blade from his boot. Carol puts her boot on his back, keeping him down.
Y/N lifts the knife, both of them recognizing the distinct brass-knuckle grip of Carol’s knife. Wordlessly, they switch, and slipping her fingers around the hilt of her knife feels like regaining a part of her identity.
Feeling a renewed surge of energy, Carol drags Jason to his feet.
“Don’t try anything,” She hisses, shoving him in front of her with her blade pressed to his throat. “Now move.”
They walk out of their holding pen into the wider expanse of the warehouse, Y/N sticking close behind Carol. Voices echo from around a stack of rotting crates, and as they turn the corner Carol can see the other two beside a makeshift campfire.
The woman, Katie, is sitting on a plastic patio chair across from the older man, Dave, who’s lounging on a beanbag chair. Katie looks serious, trying to hold the conversation, while Dave plays with Y/N’s longbow, plucking at the string and aiming it towards random objects.
They freeze, staring wide-eyed as Carol, Y/N, and their hostage step into the firelight.
“Oh shit–” Dave doesn’t get farther than that before a knife has lodged itself in his hand.
Y/N moves fast despite her injury, dashing forward. She pulls her knife from his hand only to drive it down into his thigh, using the pain to distract as she grabs her bow and quiver. Katie is scrambling to her feet, shakily reloading the rifle, but Carol shoves Jason into her, momentarily knocking them both off balance.
Y/N steps back to notch and arrow and Carol takes her place, slashing Dave’s throat in one smooth movement.
“No!” Katie shouts, getting free from her brother’s shocked fall and aiming the rifle.
An arrow pierces her skull, right between the eyes. Her body goes rigid for a second, expression slack with shock, before her body falls.
Y/N pulls her knife from Dave’s knee and sinks it into his head, finishing him before he can turn. On the floor, Jason holds himself up on his forearms, staring with wide, terrified eyes. Carol advances, her knife held tight in her hand.
“Wait, wait, please!” He begs, scrambling backwards. “Please don’t. Please, I’m sorry. I don’t want to die. Please. I told them to let you go. Please. Please.”
He’s crying, and Carol realizes how young he is. He’s a child. A scared, lost, little boy afraid of the dark.
She stops. Off to the side, she sees Y/N has notched another arrow, aimed and waiting. Waiting for the verdict of her queen, even if she doesn’t agree. Carol thinks about hope, and trust and how Daryl said she and Y/N are more alike than she thinks.
“Go.” She tells the boy, nodding away from the bloodbath. “Get out of here.”
His sobs quiet for a moment in surprise.
“But if I ever see you again, I’ll tear the skin from your bones and feed it to the walkers.”
He scrambles to his feet, muttering “thank you, thank you,” over and over.
“Go.” She repeats, beginning to wonder if she should change her mind.
He runs, his footsteps echoing through the building before they hear the slam of a door. And he’s gone. Carol turns, meeting Y/N’s gaze. The younger woman regards her carefully, lowering her bow and returning the arrow to her quiver.
“You left him alive.” She says. “Won’t he just come after us?”
“Him?” Carol scoffs, feeling a prickle of embarrassment at her weakness. “He won’t last a week. I was just saving you an arrow.”
“Thanks.” Y/N nods, moving forward to retrieve the one still lodged in Katie’s skull.
“How’s your leg?” Carol asks, watching her limp closer.
“Hasn’t fallen off yet.” Y/N smiles, but it looks more like a grimace.
“Well,” Carol slips her knife back into her belt, lifting Y/N’s arm up over her shoulders. “It’s a long walk back to Alexandria.”
Y/N lets out a huff of laughter as they start their trek.
Outside the warehouse, night has fallen. Carol isn’t sure for how long, but she knows they’ve definitely missed the funerals at Hilltop. The highway is the most direct route home, so they limp slowly along the asphalt beneath the stars.
They don’t talk much. Y/N keeps a brave face, but Carol can tell she’s in a lot of pain. Carol lets her focus on her breathing, in and out, putting one foot in front of the other.
She’s strong. Carol always knew that. Y/N wouldn’t have survived so long if she wasn’t. But somewhere along the line, Carol had begun to equate kindness with weakness. And in her eyes, Y/N’s warmth and positivity had become opposed to her capability.
Carol wondered, thinking about the way Y/N spoke about surviving and living, if her hope wasn’t so much a mark of weakness, but a product of her resilience.
“Ezekiel never told you.” Y/N says, her words broken up by panting breaths. “What happened to me.”
Carol slows them to a stop. “Let’s take a break.”
Y/N complies, moving to rest against the bumper of a rusted out SUV. She takes a second to catch her breath.
“I thought he told you everything.”
“No.” Carol says, her chest tightening at the thought of her...ex-husband. “Not everything.”
There’s a pause. Y/N takes a deep breath, her gaze fixed on the toes of her boots.
“I had a daughter.”
Carol remains completely still, though her heart rate has sped up by about ten notches. She says nothing, waiting for Y/N to continue. Because there’s more.
“My boyfriend and I had talked about marriage and kids, but it was all hypothetical. For after I passed the BAR and after my career was stable. The pregnancy was unplanned.” Y/N says, “But the world ended a week after I found out and then everything that was planned didn’t matter anymore.”
Carol can’t help but think about Sophia. How the world shifted entirely when she saw her for the first time. How nothing mattered, nothing ever would matter, as much as her little girl.
“Her dad got bit early on, before I was even showing. One of the others in our group put him down. I didn’t even see the body before they burned it.” Y/N swallows thickly, but her voice remains strong. “There used to be a hospital outside D.C. The doctors kept it running and it was safe for a while. I had her there. Hope. My Hope.”
Carol’s stomach twists. She almost doesn’t want to hear the rest. Because she knows, she knows how this ends.
“The hospital was overrun by the winter. Our group got split up and Hope and I ended up on our own. We couldn’t find anywhere to stay, nowhere safe that we could settle for long enough. I could barely find food, so I could barely feed her. And it was so cold that winter.” Y/N’s voice breaks now. “She got sick. She wouldn’t eat, she barely opened her eyes. I didn’t sleep, not for days, I just kept watching her breathe, because I was sure that if I closed my eyes, when I opened them she would be gone.”
Carol lets out a shaking exhale of her own, flashes of that barn door and the darkness beyond it running through her mind.
“She died.” Y/N whispers, “Even though my eyes were open, even though I was holding her as close as I could. She died. And then she came back and for just a second I thought it was real.”
Tears are sliding down both their faces now, and Carol sees Sophia’s ashen face and sunken eyes as she staggered out of the barn.
“I almost let her bite me. I thought it would be easier to just go with her, to stay with her. To still be her mother, even like that, than to let her go.” Y/N says.
Carol remembers having the same thought. The agony of loss bleeding into defeat and how she would have run to Sophia and given up had Daryl not stopped her.
“I killed my baby. And in a way, I killed myself.” She continues, her voice haunted again. “I survived, but I wasn’t alive. There was no hope, no love, nothing but anger and loss. I killed every walker I saw, I killed people, too. If they tried to hurt me, to steal from me. I was alive, but nothing really separated me from the dead. I walked and I killed, and I would have kept going until I dropped dead if I hadn’t found Kingdom.”
Silence stretches between them for a long moment, both women lost in their memories and their grief. Carol inhales, lifting her gaze from the ground to her friend.
“You didn’t know.” Y/N shrugs one shoulder.
“No,” Carol shakes her head. “I’m sorry.”
Y/N meets her gaze, the corner of her mouth lifting just a bit. “Thank you.”
Another pause stretches between them. Carol shifts from foot to foot.
“Does Daryl know?”
“Yeah,” Y/N nods, her voice sounding more steady. “He knows.”
Carol nods back, unsure what to say.
“Come on,” Y/N pushes herself to her feet, managing a forced smile. “Still got a ways to go.”
Carol moves forward, looping an arm around Y/N’s back while Y/N rests hers over Carol’s shoulder. It’s not quite a hug, but it feels comforting. Some of the tightness in Carol’s chest lessens.
Nobody really knows Daryl Dixon, but sometimes Carol knows him better than he knows himself.
Like right now, as she watches him watching Y/N. He leans against one side of the living room doorway while Carol leans against the other. Y/N sits on the couch with RJ, Judith, Lydia, and Gracie all sitting around her. There are stickers and markers all over the floor, being used to decorate Y/N’s brand new set of crutches.
The kids are doing most of the decorating while Y/N rests. Still, Daryl can’t keep his eyes off of her.
“I’m gonna draw lightning bolts on it to make you go faster.” RJ announces, uncapping a yellow marker.
“Oh, please do.” Y/N says. “I could use an extra boost getting around town.”
“Do you like ladybugs?” Gracie asks, holding up a sheet of stickers (she already has two ladybugs stuck to her face.”
“Very much.” Y/N smiles, and Carol can feel its warmth from several feet away.
Carol looks back at Daryl. His expression is soft, softer than Carol thinks she’s ever seen him, but there’s a hint of apprehension in his eyes. He loves her, but he doesn’t know what to do with that love. He feels it, so clearly, but it’s overwhelming him. It’s foreign and strange and he doesn’t know how to handle it.
She understands now.
Carol understands that she was right about Y/N, she is different. She’s not like them.
She’s a survivor just the same, she’s lost just as much, but she held onto her kindness and her faith and her hope. She can smile at anyone and make them feel loved. She can believe in the goodness of even those who hurt her. She is strong because she is kind. And she’s kind because she is strong.
Of course Daryl has more love for her than he knows what to do with. From the moment they met, he never stood a chance.
So, after the crutches are decorated and the mess on the floor has been cleaned up and Daryl is about to walk Y/N home, she offers him some sisterly advice.
Her hand on his shoulder stops him before he follows Y/N out the door. Daryl looks at her, a silent question in his eyes.
“If you don’t tell her,” Carol says, giving him a knowing look. “How will she know?”
His eyes widen for a moment, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and amusement bubbles up inside her chest.
She smiles, slapping his back and nudging him out the door. “Go get her, Pookie.”
Daryl blanches, and then his cheeks turn bright red. It only makes Carol grin wider as he hurries away from her, his head ducked like a teenager embarrassed by his mother.
Carol chuckles quietly to herself, turning back inside. She knows that no matter how he tells her, he’ll be met with a love only he could deserve.
For a long time, Carol thought she knew Daryl, but she didn’t see the truth of his feelings. Now, she spends a lot of time pretending not to see things.
Carol pretends not to see them at the archery range after Y/N’s leg is healed. Daryl is “teaching” her how to use his crossbow. Though she could probably pick it up in about five seconds, she lets him stand close and adjust her stance, smiling happily when she hits a bullseye.
Carol pretends not to see Y/N wearing Daryl’s shirt. It’s styled differently, unbuttoned and worn over a tank top, but Carol recognizes the hole in the elbow as much as she recognizes the proud comfort with which Y/N wears it.
Carol pretends not to see the dark figures slipping in and out of the back entrance to Daryl’s basement apartment at night. Sometimes he leaves, slinking off down the street not to return until morning. Sometimes she’ll arrive, her smile illuminated as the door opens and she rushes inside.
Carol pretends not to see them holding hands, the backs of their palms bumping as they walk down the street or through the woods. Their fingers will catch and intertwine, each of them smiling a sweet, warm-hearted smile to themselves as they bravely keep their grip like a declaration and continue on their way.
Carol pretends not to see all the kisses. The ones where they think no one is around to see, when Y/N’s back is to a tree trunk or the side of a house and Daryl leans in. The ones where they’re on the porch or the kitchen when Carol walks in and they separate faster than oil and water, looking anywhere but at each other. The ones where they don’t care if anyone is watching because Daryl nearly got bit or an enemy’s bullet just barely missed Y/N’s face and they kiss each other in desperation and relief and such deep love it makes everyone else stop for a minute in awe.
Carol pretends not to see, but she knows. She knows Daryl is happy, and that’s enough.
Daryl Dixon: @crossbowking @jodiereedus22 @buzzybhee @thanossexual @hudsonbirdspook @moonstuffsteve @lonewolf471 @seizethesam @pastanest @elodieyung @sophia-gwendolyn @your-new-mom @kpopandharry @wasted-years @yaoiqueen88 @lucillethings @huffledor-able541 @scootankle @nkjktk @lilythemadqueen @dracoxxyoflam @srhxpci @suranne-doesstuff
Forever: @crossbowking @theunofficialduke @honeylemonwithrose @dark-night-sky-99 @adikaofmandalore @tomorrowsanotherday @hopplessdreamer @rachelxwayne @all-will-be-well-love @mad-girl-without-a-box @sonia1324 @lokis-omnistrose