Drowning Men Do Drown

Over the edge of the ravine, Carol and the trapped Daryl are stuck between two unappealing currents.

The Ravine


Mud squeezes against them as they tumble, leaving wet, smothering kisses as the bodies scrape along, drawing imprints of their struggle all down the side of the ravine. Hitting, falling— mud; it drowns out all else, even the shouts of those left behind on the edge and the muttering groans of the hungry arms awaiting their final plummet. George kicks at her as if spasming, little aware of it or what good he can do, perhaps dazed by his original head-start straight on his head. A branch scrapes his shirt, grabs his shoe, jolts them both, then lets go. The shoe takes off on its own after another twist, stopping long before them with its less substantial weight. An aimless walker hand, the only limb of its person protruding from the collapsed side of the ravine, clutches at its laces.

Taken down a path further along the river than Daryl's, there's less debris. The harder wash of the river below has loosened and taken most of that with it but also threatens, with its barreling embrace, to grab them out of one uncontrolled tumble straight into another. Misguided and damaged, George continues to yank on the strap of Carol's gun, desperate for some safety in it. At last, he gets a hand at her shoulder, at her throat. Mud-encrusted knuckles close in on her.

A choking sound of effort and seizing pressure fights back at George. She wraps a mud-slicked hand — her right — around his wrist, making her hold of him tenuous.

A smack of bone against bone loosens him almost immediately. George's casualty — the shoulder of a walker struggling to climb — caves in and George is swung; inadvertently, he flings Carol out and further into the ravine basin where the water wants to welcome her into its currents. Her lifeline now becomes George's failed one: the strap of her gun, hooked on George's quickly failing elbow.

Two new impacts jar the dogged concentration of a couple walkers. They break from their group — the medley hovering under Daryl's hanging foot, where one has managed to tame the mud successfully enough to gain a few inches. He claws onto the toe of Daryl's boot, violently jostling the Dixon's stillness.

Carol might've seen him, in the dark — thinks, maybe — but it's nothing but a rush of shadows and limbs that could be any configuration of tree branches and walkers as she held on for her life, too. The tenuous hold is barely even that, now — her life's tenuous if she can't climb her way back up to George and his inadvertent aid. Flung, she twists this way and that, her stomach knocking the unknowable slope instead of the relative safety of her human sled, her knees push and scrape without the right momentum to do any good getting her away from the ravine's anger below; it's all her upper body, thin arms that're strong because they have to be. She barely manages to glance down behind her— under her— before her right hand grabs for— something— a handhold—

Her handhold bites back.

It's nothing; a scrap of a big, split loose branch. She hauls up from it and it sinks from whence it came, but lends, in that second, lending fleeting, bleeding strength to her grapple of her rifle strap, rapidly slipping from George. She grabs his hand— an act of help turned into utter selfishness for survival. His wrist, his elbow. The rifle's almost lost; determined to elbow and knee her way back to using George, she hauls the weapon back and brings its butt down toward the struggling man's face.

With a crack to the cheekbone, George stumbles back, dazed, into the waiting arms of the walker whose shoulder he damaged. Hands whose flesh has discolored and begun to worn latch onto George's upper arm as he had Carol above, dragging him backwards to open room for the walker to bury ragged teeth into the throat. Confused from the blow to the head, he can't even scream before his breath becomes gurgles and blood.

Sensing the marked prey, the closest ambler fights the water-ravaged terrain, ignoring Carol for what's easier, what's rocking in violent spasms inside the maw of another. Several more perk at the scent of blood and meal, languidly turning and then lurching to follow. Still, single-minded, two remain clawing at the ravine's impossible sides. The lead closes its first, true, grip around Daryl's shoe and tugs; shirt fabric rips and their prize drops an inch.

As her once would-be attacker is sacrificed to the walkers, Carol nearly risks sliding right back down, a fate she only just escaped — but, having gained her ground, she holds to it, slipping from George; a body, now. Half-crouched with barely any room for it, she stares at him being devoured for a second, eyes widened by adrenaline, and though a wince is contained somewhere behind her half mud-masked face, it's staidly passed by. She did what she had to. Dirt caking into the cut on her palm, she pushes up, whirling about with a jagged pain in her opposite shoulder to witness the determined path of the two clawing walkers — and secondly, their prey of choice. She can just make him out; the familiar shape, the unfamiliar shirt.

Her concern shining, she's thinking all the way through her shock. Barely a noise escapes Carol, even if she might want to call out— Daryl— she's quiet as a mouse. But now that's all she has in common with such a critter.

For the same reason that she keeps quiet, she rapidly eyes her doggedly kept rifle as as she switches its over-taxed from its original shoulder to the other. Harried, but thinking, acting, her short-haired head whips right and left until she ducks down to, biting down, yank the branch that cut her out of the mud. It's easier to wield, and if it's sharp enough to break her skin that fast, it's sharp enough to break theirs. She tries to pick her way toward the walker grappling for Daryl, the hefty, raggedly pointed branch ready to stab down toward the nearest skull— but that's only if she can get there without succumbing to the river below the precarious safety her feet have found.

Unsteady rock breaks away next to Carol's feet, choosing to surrender to the gush of the water that nearly drowns out shouts from above: "I can't see anything!" filters down. She's feet from her goal, nearing, as the walker gropes with a second hand, losing itself some ground but gaining another tug; Daryl drops another inch, beginning to slant in the two walker's direction.

Dead eyes refocus. Gritty, mud-encrusted hair framing an absent expression, a female walker turns from pursuit of George's split open intestines to Carol, drawn in as the living woman passed by a scent or a feeling — she gives no explanation but to gurgle out a noise not unlike George's last; there's mud dribbling out of her gaping mouth with missing teeth. She gnaws on it as it falls, beginning to reach out, spreading dried lips— and bang shh! the slip and slide of ravine wall next to Carol's right side explodes with the bullet impact, smacking with muddy debris.

It sprays against her, stinging and spattering her face like blood; it's nigh on impossible to tell the difference. She's frozen, breath gasped and caught, in that instant, pressing against the ravine wall, eyes instinctively squeezing. Staying still seems as deadly as moving in the wrong direction. She lurches toward the reaching walker that's delaying her efforts the other way, where Daryl hangs; determined, Carol stabs toward the sunken eye-socket that a feeling woman. It's not utterly with all her might — she doesn't wanna lose her footing — so, leaving her branch wherever it sticks, she follows with a scrambling thrust and shove of her rifle's opposite end. The dead aren't so keen on keeping their balance.

Rotten juices squirt as the eye pops, creating a sufficient sheath for the sharp branch. Weighed backwards by Carol's thrust, and the sudden addition of another limb, the walker bends, colliding with her fellow. As he slips off into the water without a fight, she falls completely, the protruding branch sticking into the mud of the ravine's bank. Bones crackle as she is, ignorant to her body's nature, attempts to arise but remains, pinned by an eye-socket.

Sounds arise above the morbid sight: mud splattering, a defiant ripping of much abused fabric, and the meaty vibration of a boot hitting — breaking — a nose. At next glance, Daryl's a man alive, jarred awake by the ring of the bullet. In squirming, he's landed a solid kick to the encroaching walker, who staggers backwards and manages to stay aboard the mud bank. The movement destroys what's left of the back of his clinging shirt and he's released to the last few feet of the ravine slope, skidding and then flung to the dirtied ground. As he tries to rise, the second walker bends generously to meet him halfway.

Carol collides, purposefully, into the earthy wall to claim a sense of solidity after the stabbed, pinned walker goes down, but she's on guard. For more than herself. "Daryl!" she calls out after his slippery collapse, full of intent but barely reaching above the vigorous flow of the water. "Stay down!" she warns against his rise, lifting her weapon. She suffers through frustration with the thing— it's become awkward in her hands since her shoulder was wrenched coming down the ravine. Her first shot's off-aim, tearing through the walker's own uneven shoulder, her shot louder than it was useful, the noise drifting up above like an explosion's aftermath. She buckles down even more and bears it for the next one; if her aim this time's anything like her burning stare

Bam! The walker's head erupts in mud and brain matter; Daryl rolls heavily, avoiding most of the collapsing corpse only to be caught by the damaged shoulder. On his stomach, he shrugs it off, shoving the lifeless walker off as the creature with his nose hanging on by a thread drops without caution to one knee to grab needfully at Daryl's shirt and hair, barriers to his flesh. Throwing himself the way he'd come, Daryl rolls halfway back up onto the walker Carol downed and swings for the looming one's face. The nose comes completely off as the walker tumbles down onto its own side in the mud, clawing at Daryl's leg as he climbs to his feet. Arms out to his side to balance, he raises that same escaped leg to prepare to stomp when a bam from above answers Carol's shot in delay. Inches from Daryl's toe, the walker's bicep erupts and then bam tears open its abdomen. Lurching back, Daryl whips his head up to the top of the ravine then behind him to Carol— and behind her— "Carol!"

She follows his first look first, wary of a rain of gunfire, but it doesn't take her long to interpret that shout— that warning, behind her. Still, a pair of distorted dead faces behind her have already closed in when she sees them, disturbingly near, perpetually hungry; skin and bones, they navigate the treacherous landscape, ignoring every slip. Carol bashes one reaching arm away with the end of her trusty weapon; her shoulder regrets it. She backpedals dangerously a step, another step, and fires— the walker's open mouth seems to suck it in, palate obliterated in a spray of toxic, decayed black out the back of the skull. One out of the way means room for the other, and the adolescent-sized, wet-haired, one-eyed walker — her youth long expired — catches Carol's left arm awkwardly before she has room to fire another shot. She pulls back, inching rapidly backwards until her boots — or the dirt — gives way, landing her nearer Daryl with the walker looming in.

Yanking his boot out of the moist cavern of a collapsed skull brings gummy sludge along Daryl's stride, all mixing in with the muddy gunk vastly chipping away from beneath them. He's palmed a knife, as soiled as everything else in this pit. Reaching in for Carol, his left hand loops under her arm to raise her as his right plunges the knife into the leering forehead of the adolescent walker straight on her fallen heels. Against the sinking landscape, the walker slides, urging Daryl's arm outward with the weight as he tries to remove the knife too heavily embraced by a matted skull.

As Carol's raised to safety, the ground beneath her lowers as her feet fight for purchase again. Caught between the strain of Daryl and the knifed walker and nature's pull toward the water, something gives. "Ah!" is her abrupt bark of distress when she feels it happening, slipping from Daryl like nothing more than more silt. She saw him go over an edge, and now it's his turn to bear witness to Carol falling: one second her boots are clinging to the ground, the next it's only her hands. There's nothing to hold onto. Solidity crumbles in her fingers.

Daryl's strain to hold for both of them. Mud bubbles and leaks between tightly gripped fingers, easing that integrity inch by precious inch. "Shit— !" The knife he's let go; Carol, not so much. With one harried slither to catch her armpit, he's halfway over with her, grabbing for one of her hands with his other. Gushing water washes over Carol, more torrential than cleansing, though it, too, digs at her muddy apparel. It attacks Daryl's hold as he growls against it. As soon as his foot plants somewhere halfway solid, another section breaks off, and he has to kick, drag. A surreal little spiral of red blood works its slow, winding way down his arm to his hand, between his fingers and across Carol's.

The little red ribbon that ties their destinies together.

Ground breaks.

* * *

The rush and roar of water fills Carol's ears, overtakes her head. She can't tell if it's lulling her to sleep, waking her out of it, or if she's still being thrust along the rapids.

It's the sense of solid ground beneath her that causes her to realize she's awake and alive — or maybe it's a noise, or an instinctual sense of danger — whatever it is, it comes with the feel of dirt and wet leaves against her face. She's sprawled on her stomach, limbs askew, fighting to right themselves as her head lifts suddenly, eyes flinging open. Even her short hair's matted against every bit of skin it can reach, soaked to gunmetal grey. Her face has been washed by the river — an inconsequential blessing. Thinner trails of mud yet streak down from her forehead, mingling with a hint of almost indistinguishable blood.

Her first sight that of a dim slope from the bottom up, the unfriendly inner wall of the ravine. Behind her, the water is quieter than the noise that assaulted her head. Her left shoulder complains — further assaulted in her trip from water to land, it's not quite right, her arm tangled behind her into an odd angle by that goddamn rifle strap, and a pattern of bruising spreads out from under the darkened, dull olive green of her shirt. Carol starts to get up harder as if to spite it — in earnest, to look hurriedly around her for signs of life. Or death.

Ahead, the width of the ravine has doubled, slowing the gush of ample water to a mere leisurely crawl, parting around taller rocks. It signifies life, itself. And the thin rivulet of red taint snaking by: death. Slithering down the current, it leads up, up stream, from where it flows down. In the rockier terrain, the glimmer and flow of the water creates mirages: faces in the outcroppings, body parts out of half-drowned rocks, shadows carving meaning out of nothing.

Carol twists before she manages to stand, witnessing the water behind her from over her less aggravated shoulder. She stares, searchingly, unnerved and unknowing as she pushes up, stumbling once, twice to regain balance in battered, waterlogged legs. She juts her elbows this way and that, de-tangling herself, painfully, from the strap of her rifle. She starts to yell; or she thinks she does. A cough interrupts her effort, and she swallows uncomfortably before her voice escapes, cracking and hoarse in the first call. "Daryl— ?" she asks the ravine, wary of its answer.

Only the gurgle of uninterrupted water flow answers her, irreverent to her needs as it continues along its own. In a small blessing, the lack of trees above allows a bit more of the pale moon to shine through, when not cloaked with clouds, and it points to a soft glimmer up the stream from where Carol washed ashore.

Rather than call out again, Carol hones in on the glimmer. It could be nothing— it could be as much as a trick of the moonlight, like the shapes in the outcropping, the tricks in the shadows. She raises her rifle; it sits wrong in one hand, and she can't be sure that it can even fire after the journey through the ravine, but she juts it out like it means something and starts to jog cautiously upstream.

Rock, rock. A plank of wood reminiscent of a ghost ship-wreck in this light. Another rock, and then the faint glimmer defines: the razor edge of the knife protruding out of the forehead of a soaked and battered dead walker; the river's been unkind to her stale adolescent features and glints of bone pick up the moonlight nearly as well as the metal.

The night goes still again, fruitless. Water, higher here, whispers — and mutters, against a detour. Small, peripheral, and so easily missed — behind a last jut of rock, a still foot composed of a boot she's seen before.

The knife draws her to take pause, and though an ill recognition takes hold, she's considering efficiently checking how deeply the knife has remained lodged when the other form takes on meaning in front of her eyes. She stares at the boot, breath catching, but prevents herself from rushing on ahead; rather than abandon her task at the walker's body, she takes to it faster. She bends down to wrap her cut hand around the handle of the blade, bending and planting her own water-heavy boot on the motionless head to anchor, provide leverage. Carol abandons her rifle-grip to pull and pull one-handedly at the knife; her boot sole slips in sloughing skin and holds to creaking bone.

It slips out, sending her back a sloshing step. A layer of sweat has formed uneasily under the moisture already clinging to her skin.

Daryl's knife wielded in her right hand, she looks prepared — is, practically speaking, prepared — but there has rarely been a more cautious creep as Carol steps around the jut of rock to seek out the rest of him. Being prepared for what she might find— that's a work in progress.

Mundane details jump at her, filling her eyes as if to avoid the whole truth. A pool of blood rests near the edge of the rock, waiting for spare runs of water to find it, carry another ribbon down the current. Where the water parts behind, the leftover mud's littered with fresh weaving footprints leading to the skid mark of that fallen boot. Ripped pants, long ago starting to lose their knees, and the pathetically flagging remains of a cheeky blue t-shirt. An outstretched hand as if he once meant to pick himself up, Daryl's face down in the muddy water like discarded garbage. Dark brown scores of old scars across his back, visible underneath the wreck of his shirt, speak to theme.

Carol steps into his footprints, her boots coming to sink at his side. As the wet ground tries to absorb them, she absorbs the sight laid out in front of her. She's still as a stick jutting out of the mud, watching for signs … breathing, a twitch; her lips work and press together hard. She drops to a crouch and, the knife curling in her grip so that the darkly bloodied blade is sidelong, lays her hand on Daryl's shoulder. Her hand's chilled; it can't be colder than he is. She can't tell. There's some weight to the gesture, after a second, easing into a small shove. The cut on her palm sticks to a scrap of spare fabric; she ignores it. "Daryl," she prompts, worry making her voice more unsure, more quiet, yet the current of determination underneath is stronger. "Daryl."

Water sloshes as his shoulder rocks and drops slackly under her pushes, no argument of life to being shoved. He's chilled like she's chilled so there's no indication between one second, two, and the last passing, drawn-out, third before the water beside his stringy hair bubbles. Breathing in only water and wet dirt, Daryl's head rears back with desperate violence. Tossing over onto his back, rolling opposite of Carol's position, he coughs an endless barrage, spitting out water, mud, and blood. The little puddle's dashed away by the rapid splashing but she can now see the most likely source in the uneven gash across Daryl's chest, splitting an already lost shirt before his skin. A second culprit dashes inside his hairline, harder to distinguish from the gunk stuck in his overgrown bangs.

Carol had been poised on the precipice of giving him a real good shove, and when he comes sputtering back to life, she falls right over — mostly out of relief. She lands sitting with her knees up and legs out in front of her, regardless of whatever she's plopped down in; a rocky breath hurtles out of her, carrying a hint of her voice without words, almost laughing but edged just a bit too seriously. She runs the back of her wrist over her forehead, and her hand collapses. Relief is layered by other concerns, at the sight of that blood's sources, but for a second— "You looked dead," she says and relishes the fact that he's not before she rocks ahead and grabs for his shoulder, trying to convince him up in renewed urgency. "C'mon, up— "

Starting to sit up, Daryl flinches hard off of her intention; even before he's fully recovered breathing, he devotes a burst of energy to throwing himself backwards with a wild splash to gain distance. A last cough before he turns over his shoulder and deliberately spits. Messily seated, he grips a hand against his knee to rock up onto it, then pushing on a thigh and driving to his feet with a sway but a better focus coming into his eyes, seeing Carol with the usual narrow of his slitted gaze. Amidst, the useless drape of his borrowed blue t-shirt tangles, clings, and he fights it with an angry vigor pent up for something other than an inanimate article of clothing but still expelled there. And then, too much; he drops heavily back onto one knee.

The small, downward quirk of Carol's mouth as she watches his anger might as well say 'yep' in understanding, or at least agreement that he oughta be angry. She sits down beside him rather heavily, cradling her left elbow and the knife, her shoulder too low and sharply angled — dislocated, probably, but Daryl's looking worse off. She looks out over the less-than-idyllic water. "Might as well sit down; don't look like we're going anywhere," she offers a mixture up to him: pleasant for him, bitter for their situation. "Not sure how we far came through that river."

Defiance flares across him, torn away in patches by bruises barely old before new ones piled on. Abruptly, he drops into a sit beside her, splashing them both. Daryl loops his arms over his knees, parading forth the bare slits of his skinned knuckles, packed with gunk and risking irritation. With a hard jerk, he shakes his head out, hair and mannerism so perfectly like a shaggy dog — one who's been punished, kenneled. A dark brooding layers over him harder than the night air but when he barely looks over, his right hand twists out and then inelegantly gestures her in, her shoulder towards him.

Carol seems to be in no urgent hurry about her injuries, wearing the dislocated shoulder like just another inconvenience she'll fix herself— or— ? Her brief look at Daryl is a bit novel, quietly sussing out his intent, and there's a bit of a delay before she moves; it's not exactly defiance, not like him. She settles how he gestures, slipping along in the mud until she's closer — pained, but uncomplaining — shoulder towards him, looking out along the grim, confined landscape of the ravine.

As quiet as he scoots patiently to a proper angle with her, Daryl studiously shoves his arm — somehow gentler than he looks — beneath her affected armpit. A touch on the outer of her arm is him, cautious, then determined as it hardens in practicality. When pulling on her flexed arm it's softer than the sum whole of violence, of a certain treacherous lifestyle, in his appearance. Blood slithers down his dirtied temple, but narrow eyes, courted by deep brows, keep on her, listening with hushed intensity.

Her expression would be a match with his, hardened in practicality, but calmer, softer, even in her anticipation of her own bone and joint to scrape and pop into place. She gives her forearm a slight twist, knowing which way it's going to translate up into her shoulder. "It should go in easy," Carol says— just before there's a dull thunk, she winces with tight, thin lips, and her shoulder's narrow silhouette regains its shape. " — done it enough times," she finishes, a faintly tight sigh under her voice as the pain changes to the less pressing ache and tear of overtaxed, pulled muscles. She looks along the same shoulder at Daryl, giving the bloodied, intense face a small, sincere smile. "Thanks."

Murmuring, Daryl's gravelly voice obscures his words— dismissive, quick— as his hands fall back to himself. What curious, yet knowing, eyebrow had listened to her familiarity retreats; his head turns away to squint into a murky, water-logged distance. Quietly, one hand drifts down to self-consciously tug at the draping hang of the ripped t-shirt, fruitlessly attempting to engineer one of its flaps to cover the scarred back he exposes nakedly to the wall of the ravine behind them. Fingers give up after a second, splash forward, pick at his thready pant knees. Water trickles its own conversation of secrets in their quiet. Then Daryl musters a lean forward, getting his legs under him so he can stand, "Come on."

Carol follows suit, pressing onto her own knee to get up and, once standing, more or less prepared to get moving as she looks through the ravine they've found themselves in — the stretching, seeming hopelessness of the walls — but more intently looks over the scraps of Daryl's shirt. Rather, the injury it does little to hide. She's grim again, never quite wasn't, examining realistically. The summation of whatever's guessed in her head speaks in her eyes, spotting danger in his blood loss possibly washed away by the river, open wounds in somewhere so unclean as this. She offers his knife back handle first. "You might's well just use that for bandages," she notes of his tatters, and it's lighter than all that, but not exactly a joke: there's an undercurrent, a worried warning … and then a joke, managed in darkness. "I'd let you borrow my shirt, but I don't think it'd fit."

Daryl's low and agreeing, "Yeah…" is not for the joke, timed instead for the practical gripping of the knife hilt back from her, his eyes down on the shirt hang. Thrusting the knife into a sheath at his sagging waistline elicits a grimace. Using the other hand to turn the shirt's remaining hemline up to stare critically, he opts it haul it up, wrenching one sleeve off after the other with soft grunts of obvious strain. Hard to miss why. His mud-soaked and then river-bathed torso's been someone's cutting board, from soft to hard slice, with the last, and worst, across most of his right pectoral. While rending the shirt the last of its shape, he seems to hone in on how close she stands. Raising his head with a sniff as if it's nothing, he steps a few paces away, not quite able to turn his back on her. As HANDSOME disappears forever, he crouches down to scrub the shirt rags in running water passingly cleaner than everything else. "Climbed somethin' like this before," he rumbles in observation, squinting an eye ahead at the ravine's ascent.

Carefully folding her arms where she stands, supporting the recently in-and-out side slightly, Carol's attention follows his task and then his squint, a bit of a pull coming to her expression at his observation; it leaves, replaced by her re-examination of the side of the ravine, practical, then concerned, then practical again. "Maybe it's less steep further along," she suggests. It's not quite optimism.

"We'll find a place," insists the retort of Daryl's stubbornness more than a brand of hope. In overly practiced motions, he wrings out the washed strips of shirt and sets to stringing them around his front, a misplaced tangle of sky blue, darkened by soak, and soon by the blood it stems. Hands brush off then, again, on the stiff dirtiness of his pants, "Get y'to Rick an' then I come back for Maggie an' Merle." Ambitious, against the working bruises purpling his abdomen and face. Pushing off from a knee, dizziness throws him forward before he can rise. He smacks the ground with a splash of palm, grunting, immediately forcing himself back to the knee and up to his feet— mere feet, the distance he's from where he originally collapsed, could've drowned in the muddy bank.

Carol steps like she might move in to support him, but once he makes it back up, she just keeps a watch. The strips of bandages might not get a spectacularly passing grade, but it's what they have. "We'll tackle it one thing at a time," she says without argument; just gentle, practical reason. "Burn those bridges when we come to 'em." Survive, until those ambitious bridges. For now, they have to deal with the fact they've been flung, hurt and isolated, into a ravine with no supplies.

For as far's visible, at the night's muggy horizon, no relief in the angle of the ravine's descent on either side. Variously, tree branches of those growths that have adapted to the incline dangle teasingly down but a few tries to climb high enough to snag one— requiring risky jumps off the mud and rock— clearly exacerbate Daryl's injuries and Carol quietly vetoes the attempts; her companion moodily grumbles, spending time walking a fair distance ahead afterward, and she knows he's only nursing a very real sense of personal failure.

It's time— too much time— that she can watch the old, misshapen scars on his back. She isn't without her own, and that somehow makes it worse: knowing. Worse and yet… survivable.

This ravine, on the other hand.

Near the last of the water's final trickle before mud entirely consumes it into its own being, the ditch gives them a single blessing: ahead, Daryl pauses to crouch, get a good grip, and yank the form of his crossbow out of the muck where it was buried already as if an artifact of another time. A time when they were effective. The ravine feels like a very long, generous, grave.

As Daryl stands in wait, he picks at the clogged and dirtied pieces of his weapon. He turns a squint at her and then to the stretch of the ravine, which begins to show definite signs of drying out, exposing less treacherous paths to climb, and less infectious ground to camp on.

today's word is: inadvertent

Carol's eyes flick traitorously downward when Daryl turns to squint at her. She's seen his scars and he knows of hers. Facing them together seems much too difficult at this juncture. There her gaze remains for a few cowardly seconds before she looks back up at him to meet his stare. The vulnerability, the hurt and the trust in him are all readable, though masked behind the ever present danger of their world and circumstances. As is the case with everything now, the humanity and compassion is hidden away, waiting for the right place and time. If that time will ever come to pass.

In her attempt to move past their circumstances and the uncomfortable silence they have fallen into, she takes a decisive step forward. Really, that is all that is left to them. One step in front of the other. Move on. Continue.

"Well, handsome," she tells him, the levity in her voice belying everything else that is unspoken between them. "Let's get a'movin'."

"Cut it out," Daryl falls into pace with her, seeming to take an ease with slinging the crossbow over his shoulder. It disguises the past trauma of his back, drafting a picture of present preparedness. His grumbling complaint is at once both distancing and comfortably familiar. So with a semblance of what was, the pair trek.

Darkness tightens its grip, thickening the shadow and question of the path ahead, but, after what feels like some distance through the ravine's unchanging eternity, Daryl slows. A foot shifts back towards the way they came. His lips wrestle with each other, and the discontented twitch under an eye— the less swollen. He's determined, until he's not, glancing down at the last second as he notes lowly, "We're turnin'." An arm adjusts the crossbow, then the other swings up to point quickly and restlessly at the route into the night; it's a discarded motion before it's even completed.

Turning away from Merle.

"Sorry," Carol can't help it now. The adrenaline, the fear for her life, the glimpse into both her own and Daryl's tortured path has left her giddy, flippant. "The shirt's gone now, I shouldn't call ya that." Of course she knows it has nothing to do with the shirt. She knows that she shouldn't be joking, but she can't help it.

Getting herself under control as the night darkens, Carol's mood turns more serious as the dark encroaches. It's harder to be joyful when it is hard to see and the shadows can contain any number of unpleasant things. In fact as Daryl slows to a halt, she comes up right behind him, practically breathing on his shoulder. The closeness helps to ensure he is not lost into the night, like so many others have been.

"Do you think the others have?" she asks softly. It doesn't take much volume for him to hear her, as close as she is. "Turned that is." She looks up, useless, at the slick and muddy edges the river cuts through. "Should we try to climb it?" As usual, she leaves the mountaineering and survival to Daryl - the trust in his judgement clear and overpowering.

"Would if they wanted'ta follow the ravine," he murmurs, all the while affecting that instinctual step forward that keeps his distance. But it's a thin slice of possibility; they have no idea what state Maggie's in— caught by the Woodburians or not; any of them could be. Daryl doesn't appear to oblige such thoughts, only studying the surroundings with a scrunch of his nose like he really were their tracking dog. "Goes back t'the prison."

A glance thattaway and then he slinks in a small turn to look at her, gaze up the incline behind her after her own study of the slope. "This is no place to camp," he says of their current land. Strategically and conditionally, it defeats them. Stringy bits of half-dried mud stick on knuckles, clothes, in Daryl's shaggy hair.

He lifts a couple of fingers, none without at least one bruise, one patch of conspicuously missing skin from where he slipped his bonds. Her elbow's touched slightly, lifted slighter. Almost intimate, except that's not where it's born from; his gaze down on her arm, shy, practical. It's less than the sum of the least of his injuries but looked at as carefully. "How's the shoulder?"

It's not hard to read Daryl's thoughts as to Maggie's whereabouts and the pessimism it's hard to not fall into, like the ravine itself. Carol has them, herself. "They might have," she agrees, in the same desire to hep their comrade that Maggie must feel toward them. "She'll be up there somewhere, then," she says simply. The sentiment is not mere optimism. Maggie is tough and has been through worse - she'll have made it through. It's a fact.

As for the camp, she nods just the once, taking in the facts. She can't help but give a humorless smile. "We may not have a choice." The words take on new meaning as her eyes survey the new damage on Daryl's hands and wrists. The both of them have come out of Woodbury the worse for wear. The world just keeps on giving them more scars to add to their collection.

"It's fine," she says quickly about her shoulder. However, despite Daryl's gently lift, she winces and takes a small step backward, looking away. His wounds are worse and he has the evidence of that written plainly on his hands. Idly, she rests a hand on her shoulder, as if that will cause the pain to go away. Despite the dislocation and bruising, it's been set. She refuses to be the reason they're stuck in the bottom of the ravine if Daryl is willing to climb. "It'll be fine." There's a pause, but she doesn't reach out to him before she asks, "Your hands?" It's not quite so practical, there's a hint of worry there, because she's seen there's other wounds and who knows what else that was done to him. But, asking about the most practical of his injuries seems safest.

"Yeah." He nods agreeably; he's moved on, surveying the closest ravine wall by which they stand with shifting steps left and right. "Fine." Half-consciously, the hand most visible to Carol twists in around the strap of his hanging crossbow, obscuring the worst of its cuts. A glance to her acknowledges it in turn, in the knowing he's aware she shares— in their trust, wounded as it may be, along with them. "Gotta be."

Done and done. "I'll go up first," he's decided, the last few seconds of scoping before, "Here." Squaring off with the ravine, Daryl's chosen, without accident, the side not from which they fell but which he once believed Merle's trail continued through. Not waiting on an argument, he tosses his overgrown bangs aside and hefts up the first few feet with a grip— tested twice— and a swing of his leg.

Darkness' tricks await in each crevice. Without the cake of mud, dirt threatens to crumble under any pressure, flying under fingernails and out from beneath heels. But most holds. Daryl's understanding of the terrain keeps as strong as his fingers, bruised or otherwise. He reaches halfway without preamble. There, a root tests fine once, twice, but when depended on snaps out of place. With a slip of his boot, Daryl's twisted sideways, hitting his left shoulder into the rocky slope. "Nnf," he complains as loose grit coats his one side, muscles squeezing to keep him from dropping.

Physical wounds don't work like mental ones. Despite Daryl's assurance that he'll be alright because he has to be, there's a clear crease of Carol's brow that shows her worry for such a sentiment. While she understands its use and its place, that doesn't mean she thinks its the total truth. However, they've both been through enough without poking sore spots of both manners.

The one thing she does comment on is the bank that Daryl decides to climb. "Wouldn't Maggie be over there?" Carol asks, gesturing with her chin at the bank on the opposite side. She's not the resident tracker or their survival expert, but she has clear memories of falling down one side of this creek and it's not the one that Daryl is trying to scale.

"Daryl!" Though she's unsure as well as unable to really help Daryl scale the slippery and treacherous sides of the bank, she takes multiple steps forward as if that is exactly what she means to do. Hands reach up uselessly as if to catch him from falling or to push him upward, but they do no such thing.

Little flecks of dust and earth begin to fall, soon followed by gravel and bigger rocks splitting off from somewhere above the dangling man. A soft hiss and grunt is heard as someone hits the dirt, a soft thump made softer by the loose ground. A wild hand suddenly appears, grasping and groping for purchase as cold, clammy fingers wrap around and grip Daryl's arm. Another grunt as the hand grips tighter still, yanking and pulling upward with a surprising show of force and determination. A rough, gravelly voice floats from above, instantly recognizable — at least to the man currently hanging from the side of the ravine. "Up and at'em, little brother."

Daryl snorts as his arm's wrenched into the new, clasping safety of the man's pull, but he's no corpse weight. As soon as knows the purchase is trustworthy— despite whatever the consensus might be— he fights to get his foot against the dirt, to scramble up. "Merle." His other hand grasps his brother's arm to solidify their grip. Rising to the ravine's top, now together, he draws in close with that hand, but only so much as to briefly brush his shoulder near his sibling's. The fingers extract, giving Merle a pat against the chest that simultaneously pushes Daryl away, eagerly looking down the edge of the cliff he just came over for the sight of Carol. "We been lookin' for your sorry ass, man."

From the bottom of the ravine a gasp of sudden terror escapes Carol as a hand reaches down to grab Daryl. Is it a Walker? One of the Woodburians? Desperate, she takes a futile step forward and up, slipping on the caked mud that offers no purchase.

However, the reveal that it is Merle at the top of the ravine does little to assuage Carol's worry. There's a wary squint of her eyes as she tilts her head back to survey the scene. The injured woman still remains at the bottom of the ravine. The arms outstretched to try and help Daryl fall boneless back to her side with a wince.

"Well it looks like you found it, now didn't ya," Merle grunts in quick response to his younger brother in front of him. He glances over the side of the ravine, peering back down into the valley to see Carol. He squeezes spit through his teeth to his left, bringing up his right arm to wipe away a slight fleck or two that didn't quite make it to the ground. The features are hard to make out in the night, but it's easy to tell his arm isn't quite right. His make-shift knife hand is gone — confiscated by Woodbury, no doubt — and all that remains is the gnarled stump where his favorite right hand used to be. "Prom date?"

The reference affords Merle a humorless squint from his younger brother. Daryl's quicker picking up his surroundings, skating back a couple steps for a lay of the land. "It's Carol," he explains, practical, while eying for ways to aid her ascent. "C'mon. We gotta get her up here." Buoyed by the victory of finding his older brother, he's slower coming to self-consciousness. In the dark, it's harder to define the bruising that masks much of his face but the scrappy half-shirt, half-bandage around his torso keeps little secret. He distractedly tugs a flap of fabric further down his back as he returns to the ravine's edge.

From her place at the bottom of the ravine, Carol tilts her head back to watch the brother reunion. Though they were on the search for Merle, it's with a studied expression that she watches Daryl and his interactions. She does not have many fond memories of the large man, however there is a moment of relief to know that this part of the search, at least is over. "Shouldn't we…" her voice is not quite as confident interjecting the conversation, but she continues anyway, gesturing with a vague hand to the opposite side of the ravine. "Isn't Maggie over that way? We've still gotta find her, too."

"Well just because it's the next door neighbor don't mean it's no prom date," Merle retorts, another sliver of spit escaping between his teeth. Eyes fall on Daryl's back for a moment — another discussion for another time, when the prom date is home safe in her bed… or Daryl's bed, either way — before shifting down to Carol in the ravine. "Come on now," he says, falling back to his belly and extending his good hand down the side of the ravine. "Biters don't have manners like the Dixon boys, they ain't gonna wait for ya."

For a split-second, Daryl has time to look grossly uncomfortable at Merle's insinuations over Carol before he reaches out his hand— retracts, wipes it on his pants, then offers it again alongside his brother's. Side by side, the Dixons. "Safer camp up here," he explains, gruffly practical and half-convincing himself, too, "An' we can search better by light." He shifts. "An' climb." Fact remains: the freak chance of Merle's appearance kept Daryl from rolling straight back down the incline. There won't be that benefit again.

The wary look Carol gives to Merle's hand is not masked by any means. Instead, her head turns toward the opposite side of the ravine that she thinks they should be on, where Maggie must be, for a long moment, deciding. It's with a soft sigh, perhaps not even heard by the brothers that she moves again to the walls ravine where the Dixon brothers are currently hanging. "As long as we start looking for her once it gets light," she says, intentions clear. She's not about to leave Daryl, but abandoning Maggie isn't in the cards, either.

At first, she scrambles up of her own strength before the height and the angle is too much for her. Quickly, she reaches distinctly for Daryl's hand, only taking Merle's to ensure she doesn't slip back down, dragging Daryl with her.

"First thing." Nevermind the way he looks briefly away from Carol; deflected off of her by a darker, negative thought in the back of his look— one he's well aware Carol would be able to see him think, no problem.

Both of Daryl's hands clasp around hers as soon as she's within reach; he grunts with the effort but does not abandon it, planting an elbow and unafraid to drag himself backwards in the mud and rocks of the upper ledge. Merle gets her at the armpit as she rises, and then a little below, getting a hearty grasp on her and her shirt that lets him, even one-handedly, lift her straight off the muddy ravine facade to its top on the last stretch.

"Good thing you're still just a tiny scrap a'turkey, woman," he preaches, bemused, "Like what the dogs get thrown after dinner. Good God, what's that sheriff been feedin' you?"

He has no illusions that Carol will stay in his grip longer than necessary and shuffles back, giving her ample space, while he can eye his brother — after it was clear Merle had more than a sufficient grasp, Daryl let go, rolling onto his back. He stays there a second, hands clasped against the back of his head and tensed as if he might flex to get up at any time— just not yet.

As Carol's already a bit uncomfortable with the sudden Dixon reunion, her eyes shift over to Daryl in time to see the dark look. Whether she is reading him wrong or perhaps pushing home the point that they're all in this together, she tells him, "She'll be fine. Maggie can take care of herself. Long as we all find each other again tomorrow we can head right back and everything'll be fine."

Brushing herself off from the mud, a hand finally reaches up to rest gently on the shoulder she recently socketed back into place from their fall. A stern look is given to Merle at his quip. "Enough. I can feed myself." Looking at Merle just reminds her of the person she was when she last saw him, someone she wouldn't even recognize any more. Dismissing the thought, she starts to move away from the ravine edge. "Sooner we turn in, the sooner it'll be light."

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