Disclaimer. I do not own "The Walking Dead" and am making no money off of this fanfiction. It is purely meant for fun.
The sun was fading into darkness amidst the ruined Atlanta skyline. Shadows fell down upon the group as they geared up to move out of the area. Walkers were meandering around but Michonne was making short work of them with her katana. There weren't many now but their moans would attract more by nightfall. The church was overrun and Beth was gone. Spirits were low, particularly with Daryl. Beth had been like a little sister to him with the time they had spent together. She'd given him a reason to go on, someone to protect, and a purpose in this world other than just survival. He'd insisted upon carrying her himself, even as her own sister sobbed by his side and held Beth's hand in hers.
Now Maggie was sobbing in Glens arms as a grave stone was erected for the little singer. Daryl sat by it silently for a long while, head down. That one little light of hope had been snuffed out right in front of him. He had failed. Failed to save Beth like he had promised himself he would. Even Carol was taken on his watch even though she was safe now. It was killing him inside slowly. "Your going to miss me when I'm gone Daryl Dixon..." he remembered Beth saying to him as they walked away from the smoking house they had set ablaze. He never thought it would come to this, even as he ran exhausted after the car that took her away.
"Why did you do it..." he said softly, now numb all over, shaking his head as he replayed Beth's last moments. It was stupid really. Her going after Dawn with the scissors. What did she think was going to happen? They were lucky it hadn't resulted in a firefight that killed more people. Besides, she had been safe and free to go. He heard shuffling footsteps coming toward him. Could be a walker but he didn't care at the moment.
"Man...Rick says we have to go...I'm sorry." It was Noah, putting a hand on his shoulder. "I'll miss her too."
In one blurr of a moment Daryl was up, his hands wrapped around the kids throat holding him up in the air and pinning him against a tree.
"Your why she's gone!" He growled, animalistic in his anger as he squeezed harder. Beth had been free to go but she had stabbed at Dawn because of Noah. It wasn't fair to blame him but Daryl wasn't thinking rationally. Raw rage, sorrow and guilt fueled the redneck as Noah clawed at his arm trying desperately to make him let go. "She'd be alive if it weren't for you!" he growled, getting in the kids face.
"Daryl let him down!" He barely registered Rick and Glen shouting as he felt other sets of hands pulling at him to try to get him to release Noah. Guns were cocked as Rosita and Abe aimed at him, thinking he'd gone off the deep end and maybe he had. Judith started to cry as Tyrese held her, turning the child away from the sight.
"It wasn't his fault let him go!" Sasha cried out trying with Rick to pull him away. He didn't care at the moment. Overcome with grief and anger, he didn't care about anything anymore. Abe and Rosita moved closer until he saw a familiar figure move in front of them.
"Don't shoot it'll be ok." she said, her hands on their guns, turning them away from him.
Abe looked at her like she was crazy, then back at Daryl. "He don't look fine. He's gone off the deep end."
Carol ignored him and moved to Daryl, gently placing a hand on his shoulder. "Let him go Daryl." Carol said to him, her eyes pleading and her voice gentle and even, calming. "Come on Daryl, put him down, you don't wanna do this...this isn't you." He turned to her slowly, recognition in his eyes as the animal slowly left him. His grip loosened, his arms lowering Noah to the ground and dropping him in a coughing fit.
She softly put both hands on the side of his face and stroked his cheeks calmly. "It's not your fault." she said, tears in her eyes. Before she could say more he crushed her to his chest, his arms wrapped tightly around her as if afraid to lose her too. She hugged him back ignoring the flaring pain she'd suffered from the car accident. All that mattered was him, the only one she had left. The only one he had left.
"Stop blaming yourself." she wheezed a bit as he relaxed his grip. she stood wobbily next to him, leaning into him for support. "She wouldn't want you to carry on like this." Carol said motioning toward the grave, the others backing up and giving them some space now that Daryl was stable for the moment.
He pressed his head into her shoulder and let it go, sobbing as she stroked his back, her fingers trailing along the wings. "She's gone cause of me." He said after a while, throat choked with emotion as she held him at arms length and looked at him sternly. "No." Carol said firmly. "It didn't happen that way, and she'd be ashamed that you'd think that."
"I couldn't protect her." Daryl broke away from her and turned away, ashamed that he'd had such a breakdown. "I couldn't protect you either." He admitted turning toward her, hurt in his voice, eyes red and bloodshot.
Carol limped over to him, her arms slowly going around his broad muscled shoulders.She staggered and he caught her, supporting her so she couldn't fall. "I don't need you to protect me." She said looked into his eyes, making him look into hers. "I never want to hold you back or be a burden." Carol told him, remembering how at the start of all this she was weak and frail, beaten and helpless. "I'm strong now, you don't have to worry about me." she assured him, wanting to at least ease his guilt about her.
"Can't..." he admitted shaking his head and holding her by the shoulders. "Lost you twice...when you were gone...When I saw you at the car..." He started to say before she covered his mouth with her hand.
"I'm not going anywhere." she reassured him, cracking a smile through the tears that streamed down her face. "I'm going to stay." he looked at her, some of the weight disappearing as he crushed her to him once more. "Besides...someone's got to protect you and little asskicker." She chuckled, hearing him snort and join her a bit.
"Guess I wouldn't mind." He said and gave her a smile. "Being saved an all." He said remembering how this woman had pretty much singlehandedly brought down Terminus and saved them all.
She shook her head as Rick called out to them, ready for the group to move on. "You saved me back at the barn and plenty after that." Carol slipped her hand in his and both squeezed tightly as they walked away from the grave. He shot Noah an apologetic look as the kid rubbed his neck and limped a bit faster to distance himself from the redneck.
"So...you gonna tell me what's been bothering you now...now that...you know..." Daryl rubbed the back of his neck, grateful but a bit embarrassed about being comforted.
Carol stiffened and stopped but still gripped his hand as she glanced sideways at Tyrese then back at Daryl. "No." she said after a bit and continued on as Daryl sighed.
"Alright." he answered but Carol smiled softly at him as the group moved on. He knew she would tell him when she was ready. For now he would wait and never give up on her. She'd never given up on him. Daryl glanced back at the grave one more time before putting one foot in front of the other solidly, moving onward.
"We get to come back." Carol said softly glancing at him as the grave faded from view.
"We ain't ashes." Daryl whispered back.