There are three kinds of stupid nowadays:
"I'm going to get myself killed."
"I'm going to get other people killed."
And Daryl's least favorite:
"I'm not responsible for what happens next."
Tobin is all fucking three at once, somehow.
Instead of taking the note to Rick immediately, Tobin sits in the dark like a forlorn teenager, too worried about his own heartache to consider Alexandria's loss—the loss of a better man by any measure. Had he paid close enough attention? Would it have mattered if he had? None of it matters now, because every second that ticks by is another second wasted. Get up. Get up. Get up.
(Her kill list grew, and grew, and grew like a cavern in her chest. It grew so deep and wide that she managed to let everyone she loves slip into it, dead and alive.)
When Tobin finally musters up the nerve to find Rick, a group has assembled at the gate. Daryl is there on his motorcycle screaming his head off, blocked solidly by Sasha, Abraham, and the unspoken threat of Morgan's cute little time-out jail (which he could absolutely destroy from the inside out if he had to, by the way, not that anyone doubts it).
"Carol," Tobin says. "She… I don't, didn't…"
With the note in his hands, Rick scans Tobin's face briefly before catching Daryl's gaze and nodding him over. He says nothing; hands the note to Daryl and crosses his arms in a mixture of frustration and defeat.
This feels like too little and entirely too much; more of her heart than he was ever allowed to see in print. There's a burning sensation in his hands; at the back of his throat. He can't decide if it's anger or something far more dangerous.
The grunt is nearly a growl. New plan.
Tobin stands there with apologetic words that Daryl doesn't hear, because he's already back on his bike by "...should've noticed something last night."
"Gate," Daryl says. No shouting. No pleading tone.
Rick's silence is Daryl's loudest endorsement.
Sasha and Abraham exchange a look that asks more questions than it answers.
They separate. She pulls open the gate. Abraham stands in a cloud of dust.
That's how Daryl Dixon finds himself on a long stretch of road, traveled before but never like this. Instinct dictates his route (his knowledge of Carol and tracking, both). If he let his thoughts wander, he'd be thinking about an ambulance ride over the edge of the world, or the prison's mercifully occupied storage closet bestowed upon him by T-Dog, or the long tumble into a hunt that landed him at the foot of open barn doors.
He doesn't let his thoughts wander. This is the new world. Nobody wanders alone—that's how you get yourself killed.
If she's already dead, he ain't ever coming back.
When the sun is low in the sky and he isn't quite sure how long he's gone without a real meal, he finds a gut-twisting scene in the middle of the road: Carol's getaway car, demolished. A truck that definitely doesn't belong to Alexandria, demolished. Four kill shots, because she knows. She knows he'll follow, and if she can't kill for him she can damn well make sure she won't get him killed. He knows this about her like he knows the scent of earth after rain, like the sound of frogs in the night: she ain't that kind of stupid.
Alright. He can work with this. New information is good information.
Sleep is only an option on the rare occasion he finds someplace to hole up with a solid piece of furniture to block the door. It's careless; it borders on reckless. Maybe they're the same kind of stupid.
After a night in a ransacked strip-mall convenience store, there's a run-in with a walker. Three—maybe three walkers, but he's not counting. He makes quick work of them and wonders if she's still strong enough to do the same. Still solid enough. She took food, water, supplies… but how often will she let herself use them? She probably doesn't think she needs numbers for safety (or doesn't care either way), but forfeiting supplies seems like just the kind of thing she'd do to punish herself. He won't ever understand it, this complex she has: thinking she don't deserve as much as anybody else.
It might be about three days later when he catches up, give or take. He doesn't count nights because he doesn't want to count. She's out there just the same.
There are tracks that lead into an office park littered with broken glass. No blood, though.
God, be good.
He can't imagine himself carrying her into the empty field off to the northeast of the office park; can't imagine digging another six-by-six. No, she wouldn't want to end up in that suffocating square of land at the back of Alexandria, surrounded by firs. He can't think about that, either. There are a lot of things he can't.
Daryl steps through the glass slowly enough to keep it from crunching too loudly. She could run. She could fight. There are still a lot of things she can.
He knows what it feels like not to want to be found; not to want anyone depending on your skills, your friendship, your goddamn existence. Hell, it was all he could do to keep himself alive after the hospital. After…
This won't be like that. It won't.
Beth didn't choose her own way out.
Daryl approaches the first bank of doors, all of them shattered. They seem to lead into the same network of offices, though, so that should save him some precious time. He steps over one of the thresholds and his footfalls become quiet with the carpet. Every clock on every wall is dead, each stuck on a different time. This feels very much like a rat-in-maze situation, but he's lucky in the sense that he has some knowledge the others don't keep—
He can smell that congealed oil she uses when her shoulder acts up; a mix of something that reminds him of the filthy prep station where he used to slice pizza for his cousin; for dime bags… and something else. Something like Christmas, or the woods after a long stretch of snow.
(She told him once, ages ago, about the sweet marjoram and the juniper, and how it takes the ache out. He was too busy checking her six. Not that she needed him to do it. Not that he knew it yet, how strong she was. Is.)
He notices glass shards surrounding empty patches of carpet. Dirt scattered amongst disturbed furniture.
Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving.
Fingerprints in the dust of a door-jamb.
And what will he say, exactly?
"Stop. Wherever you're standing, just stop," he hears.
Thank fucking Christ.
"...'s me," he says.
Carol takes nearly a minute to step into the hallway from an executive's office. Probably a comfortable leather chair in there, maybe some water. Definitely a locking door. Smart of her. Not that he'd expect anything less.
"God, Daryl," she says. It's more exhale than words. "Would you just give up?"
"No, no," he says. "You don't get to run away. I don't know why you think it's gotta be like this, like you're the only one who…"
She takes a step toward him, hands at her sides, head tilted a bit.
"Who what?" she asks.
"Nah. Come on, we're goin' back," he says quietly, and his front teeth sink into the tender, flaking skin of his lower lip.
She wants to touch him. She raises one hand, lowers it.
Daryl looks at the bridge of her nose because it's easier than looking her in the eye. It's easy to notice: the skittishness, the way he moves. The way he hurts. This is about her, but it's about him, too. No damn way he would've chased Rosita into the woods. Or Eugene. Or.
"You can't kill," he says, finally.
"I can't kill."
"Maybe it ain't about that anymore."
She takes another step toward him. Glass crunches beneath her feet.
"If I can't kill for anyone, I don't deserve—"
"It ain't about what we deserve!" he shouts; startles her in the quiet of the afternoon. "Listen, you been in a bad spot, I know. I know. Maybe you freeze up, or you just don't got it in you to protect anyone but yourself anymore. I get that."
"Okay. So let me go," she pleads, though she takes another step.
"Nah, nah. It ain't about bein' able to kill for someone," he says. He shifts his weight from one leg to the other. "You just gotta be able to live for someone."
She doesn't flatten her palm against his chest, or press her lips over the indentations left by his teeth in his lower lip, or allow herself to cry just because she knows, then; knows exactly what he means. What he's trying to say without saying.
"I'm out ahead of you," she says. "Quarter mile or less. Nobody behind you to check your six, which you always forget to do, by the way. You stop to pop a trunk with a crowbar. One of those sick wolfpack fucks hauls ass into the road and I hesitate for a second."
Is he smiling? Is he just about smiling?
"It ain't about bein' able to kill for someone," he says again. Like he's turned the phrase over several times in his head, out ahead of her even in the new world. Like he'll say it until she believes it.
He doesn't rest a hand on her upper arm, or press their bodies together in a hug that's more than a hug, or allow himself to tell her that if that's how he goes, that's how he's goin'.
"You coming or what?"
She's within arm's length, now.
It was stupid of him to come find her. Could've gotten himself killed. Could've been out of Alexandria for the attack. Could've created some sort of unforeseen chain reaction—probably did. He'd never be stupid enough to let her slip out, away. Not that.
Carol extends her arm, holding her right hand steady a few inches from his left.
When she falls asleep with her cheek pressed to his back, arms linked around his torso, he can feel her even breathing even as the engine roars through his ears.
Alive, alive, alive.