Like Dying Embers
The campfire was warm, and Carrie felt more full than she had since the first few weeks of the outbreak. Merle had given her his extra portion of food—much to the surprise of the rest of the group—saying she looked too skinny. She’d sent Merle to bed early with water, willing him to burn off the rest of whatever may be in his system. “Because you’re not going to be getting more any time soon,” she assured him with a stern voice. He didn’t fight, simply retreating to the tent he and Daryl shared.
It had been eventful time when they got back to camp safely. The families had celebrated, and she knew that she would have to wait her turn to be reunited with Daryl, who was currently hunting for the group. Apparently, the cop turned out to be the husband and father of two in the group, and their reunion made her cry. Merle had nearly ruined it, but she had elbowed him hard. After being introduced to the group as someone else they found in Atlanta, and that she was ‘family’ of the Dixons, she was met with some skepticism, especially by Shane, an apparent friend of Rick’s from before. She wasn’t surprised by that—she couldn’t imagine what Merle had been acting like in her absence—but she quickly offered help in organizing supplies and helping take care of the camp, something that was appreciated. Shane still kept an eye on her despite her help.
“What about you, Carrie? How’d you survive out there alone?” Morales asked, taking another bite of his food. The eyes turned from Rick to her, and she almost shrank at the contact. She wasn’t used to this—the talking. She liked it, though, after being away from it for so long.
Her eyes darted toward the fire, staring in the flames. “When everything started, I was visiting my best friend for vacation. I was going to be going home within a few days,” she started, trying to push the memories of Rachel and Ryan from her mind. “They didn’t make it. I tried to get to the refugee center while Daryl went and got Merle, but I didn’t make it. I ended up holing up in an abandoned apartment and was there the whole time. I only took a few runs into the city when I ran out of food, but I’m fast. I think the only reason I survived so long was because I could sprint.” She shook her head with a small smile.
“I thought I was the only one left, probably would have gone crazy. But I saw that helicopter and I followed it, and I saw Rick…” she trailed off, her eyes meeting Rick’s across the fire. He gave her a small smile, and she returned it. “I know Merle has left a sour taste in all y’alls mouth, but honest, he’s thought I’ve been dead. Me, Merle, and Daryl—that’s really all we have. I’ll keep an eye on him, rope it in. Hell, when Daryl gets back, we may up and leave.”
“You’re welcome to stay,” Dale offered easily, and the others nodded. “Merle may be a little… crass, but his brother and him have been useful for the camp with hunting and keeping the perimeter in check. They’re assets.” It was good enough reasoning; the men were made to survive and could easily keep them safe.
“Well now, let’s hold on,” Shane spoke up. Carrie’s eyes narrowed as he continued. “They’re still loose canons and Merle almost compromised everything today, from what I’ve heard.”
“And I’ve already taken care of it, officer,” she told him, forcing a smile. She’d taken his stash from his bike—of course with his protesting and yelling—and threw it into Dale’s RV, hidden in a cabinet. If he went anywhere near it, she would know, as she had taken stock of what he had. While drugs, some of them were still useful.
Shane and her eyes stayed locked before he finally nodded and backed down. “Alright then, just keep your man on a leash,” he said, his tone lighter. Her own lips tugged in a smile as others laughed.
She heard a moan from the tents, and the men started up, but Carrie stood quickly, trying to calm them down. “Don’t worry, that’s just Merle. I’m gonna go take care of him and head to bed. I’ll see y’all tomorrow,” she said, grabbing her bat from her feet and taking it with her, just in case.
She unzipped the tent’s flap and entered quickly, latching it up. She nose wrinkled at the smell in the tent, and he attributed it to the Dixon boys’ lack of care for hygiene. Merle had kicked off his blanket and had a light sweat. He seemed to be in pain, although she knew he wasn’t. “Hey, Merle, I’m here, it’s okay,” she whispered, crawling up to his side. She grabbed his bottle of water from the side and took a shirt off a clean pile, soaking a part of it with the water. She began wiping up his forehead. “Shh, hey, you’re fine. I’m gonna take care of you,” she continued to coo to him, sitting on the side of her legs, rubbing his arm and wiping the sweat from his forehead with the water.
“Needa hit—need it, girl,” he said, shuddering.
“Jesus Merle, how much have you been taking?” she said resigned. Daryl was going to get a load from her when he got back for letting Merle relapse, especially this much. If he was already detoxing this hard, he must have been taking something every few hours. “You can’t have any, Merle. You gotta get better,” she told him.
He moaned a bit more, called her a few names, but eventually he relaxed when she planted small kisses all over his face, putting his mind to other things; it was an easy enough distraction tactic she had learned in the early days. She toed off her running shoes and curled up to his side, throwing a blanket over them. He grabbed her tightly, and she clutched his arm with everything she had, as if he was going to disappear if she didn’t hold on. His breathing evened out, and feeling more safe than she had, even mores than she had in the secured apartment, she easily fell asleep in Merle’s arms. It was much better than she had dreamed about.
Merle threw up the next morning, luckily before he ate. He was in a foul mood, but Carrie didn’t give him any time to snap at others by keeping him busy. Together they cleaned his and Daryl’s tent (“We gonna have ta get anotha’—not gonna bump uglies with Darylina in the same tent”), gather water from the quarry to boil for the group, and were about to start prepping the skins from the various game they hunted to be put to use for winter.
Before the could get to that, screams came from the woods—the children’s screams.
Carrie had been wary offsetting so many children, seeing as they were defenseless in this new world. Morales had two of his own, then their was Rick’s boy, Carl, and Sophia who belonged to Ed and Carol. The parents quickly took off towards the yelling, Merle dropping his bucket and taking off with the other men and mothers, probably to add support. Carrie quickly grabbed the skins off the ground, brushing dirt off of them. It would be useless for her to help with so many people, but she did grip the gun in her back pocket protectively as she waited for the worst.
The yelling luckily stopped not even a minute later, and Carrie visibly relaxed. She glanced over to the others who were hanging around the camper, obviously waiting to see what was going on too. She sighed, knowing that she was one of the only ones capable of helping defend if need be. She laid the skins on the log by the fire pit, ready to get up and take action if needed be. She wasn’t the best shot still, because she had trained herself more with the bat, but she knew how to shoot at least.
The others started to come back through, but Merle’s obnoxiously loud voice could be heard through the camp. “Don’ worry lil’ brotha, once ya see what I picked up for ya in Atlanta, ya won’t care ‘bout no silly deer,” he said. Carrie took a slight step forward as she heard his words and could see them come through the brush.
“Damnit Merle, wha’ tha fuck did you bring back? Don’t need any useless shit!” the younger Dixon spoke, carrying his crossbow in one hand, Merle’s arm slung over his shoulder with the other.
Carrie smiled, standing and waiting for Daryl to notice her presence. “Well, I hope I ain’t that useless, Darylina,” she called out loud enough for him to hear.
Daryl’s head snapped away from the ground and landed on her. Carrie crossed her arms over her stomach, her grin growing as Daryl stopped walking, shock evident on his face. “Funny, Merle did the same thing,” she heard Andrea muse from the side.
Daryl ignored her, shoving Merle’s arm and approaching Carrie. He quickly put his hands on her arms, gripping and patting, as if to make sure she was really standing there. Her smile only grew as he let go and looked back to Merle, before wiping his eyes with his hand and trying to look tough. He opened his mouth to say something, before shutting it, wiping his face again.
Carrie stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his figure, which he returned quickly and hard. She laughed, feeling like crying all over again, knowing that both her boys were safe. He let go of her and looked at her carefully, as if examining. “Ya mad we didn’t find ya?” he asked. Carrie shook her head no—she couldn’t be mad at that. He nodded again, before hugging her again, resting his chin on the top of her head. Carrie was unable to find her voice, but her mind was singing to her. They’re alive. Thank God they’re alive.
“Aw, ain’t tha’ sweet! Look at lil’ Darylina! Watch ya hands, boy—I ain’t sharin’ tha’ lil piece!” And Merle ruined the moment again, but somehow, it fit in with their dynamic. Carrie laughed, the feeling of doing so awkward and strained from not having laughed in so long, but it was a welcomed action.
The reunion of the three was watched, but Carrie was in her own world as she fussed over Daryl’s ripped sleeves and the dirt over his body from his hunting expedition. He brushed her off as her normally would, with Merle rolling his eyes and telling Daryl how he should be excited a woman was looking him over. It felt like nothing had happened in the past few months, like everything had returned to normal, though Carrie knew that she had changed more than she wanted to let on.
It wasn’t long after everything settled, the children were scolded, that Rick had brought a new fact to the table: the matter of his bag of guns. Quickly a trip was organized to go, Daryl included. Carrie tried to get him to stay, but he was adamant on going. Merle tried, but Carrie forced him to stay, threatening him bodily harm if he tried to leave while his body tried to detox itself.
“Well, if you’re gonna be going back to the city, you can stop at my place. It had some supplies left that might be useful, plus Rachel’s house I kept a lot of my supplies for safe keeping. I’ll give ya the address and directions, they ain’t too far from the department,” Carrie said, quickly going about writing down the directions for them, her help appreciated by Rick. There was a lot of debate on if this run was worth it, but the guns were like liquid gold. In the end, Rick, Daryl, T-Dog, and Glenn were the runners for the supplies and guns.
And that was how Merle ended up sitting by the fire, skinning Daryl’s kill and hanging their hides, Carrie helping him do the cleaning and be ready to try and sew the older pelts together that had been saved, questioning what to make that may be useful for them.
“I’m gonna go do try and find some sewing stuff, just keep workin’ those skins, baby,” she told him, leaning down and kissing him on the cheek. With the extra squirrels Daryl had brought, they had 12 more pelts to add to the collection.
“Only one tha’ needs ta worry about workin’ skins is you, princess,” he replied, a childish smirk and wink thrown her way. She rolled her eyes, pushing his head forward gently before retreating to the RV, purposefully swinging her hips as she knew was watching behind her.
Dale was working in the front of the RV, messing with the engine. “Hey, Dale, right?” she asked as she approached, giving him a small smile.
He looked up from his work, adjusting his fishing hat and smiling back. He had a kind smile, she noticed; it reminded her of her papa when she was young. “That’d be me. What can I do for you, Carrie?” She liked that he remembered her name; he always seemed to get along with everybody at camp, or at least pretended well.
“Wondering if you might have a sewing kit somewhere in this thing?” Her head was already trying to work out what exactly she would do after sewing the pelts together. Maybe a large blanket? “Tryna put those pelts from the boys’ catches to good use,” she explained.
“Should be one, just go on inside and check the cabinets,” he responded kindly. She nodded at him before going into the RV and checking for a kit. The children were inside, playing some cards. She gave a hard smile to them, trying not to attract attention. She’d never really been around kids, due to her partying lifestyle, so she felt awkward around them—especially four of them.
As Carrie went in to take care of the kit, Merle continued working the skins, feeling a bit put off. Apart from his headache and grouchiness from the forced detox, he started to feel the creeping green monster that would pop up when young guys at the bar would hit on his girl or when she made sure Daryl got extra portions at meals because she hadn’t seen him in a while. She would fit in just fine here, while he or Daryl would still never fit in.
He hadn’t shared with her that he and Daryl had planned to rob the camp blind once they found her, and at the moment, it seemed that plan was falling through, what with Darylina out there helping them get that bag of guns. He would have gone himself if Carrie didn’t insist he needed to rest, and it was probably a good thing he wasn’t there. He didn’t know if he could resist turning one of those sweet weapons right back to Officer Friendly and his band of fucking merry men, banking on chance that Daryl would join him.
No, they didn’t trust him, even though he and his brother had provided fresh food and kept the camp safe. They thought he was a drugged up asshole, which he had been. But he’d been a mourning drugged up asshole. Still was more useful than half the fuckers at the camp.
He watched her as he gutted Daryl’s kill, watching as she stopped and chatted with the kids and Lori at the table, leaning down and pointing at something on the schoolwork they were doing. End of the world, and they wanna teach them fucking algebra instead of how to protect themselves. He shook his head, pulling the intestines of the squirrel out quickly, throwing them in his bucket at his feet. Merle smirked, getting a good look at her legs in her small shorts.
She was skinnier than she had been, probably from lack of nourishment from the past few months, but the muscles had grown more toned all over as she had grown stronger. Her hair had grown longer than he knew she liked to keep it, and due to lack of her hair things, it was wild and wavy, rather than the pin-straight hair she usually kept. Still, she looked well-rested, and he chalked it up to the safety of her hide-out and not having to live outside. As he watched her, he couldn’t help but think of how he missed her, holding her at night while she curled up next to him, her hands—
“Enjoying the view, Dixon?” Shane’s voice said, coming up near his and cleaning his gun.
Merle looked up to him before looking back at Carrie, who had glanced over from where she was still at the table, helping the kids with their work. She gave him a coy smile before glancing up at Shane and nodding politely, turning her attention back to Sophia who had asked her a question. Merle smirked, before replying to him,” Keep your eyes off, kid. She’s all mine.”
“That really your girl? How the hell did someone as disgusting as you manage to rope that in?” Shane said with a laugh.
Merle flung a small organ at him, causing the man to jump. “She’s a wil’ one, offica’. Loves herself a piece of ole’ Merle,” he boasted proudly. While he thought the dude was an asshole, it was nice to have normal conversations. Shane snorted, and Merle just ignored it, knowing that most people wondered how the hell that even happened
There was a short pause before Shane started again,” Y’know, it’s real messy that Rick took so many people to Atlanta.”
Merle rolled his eyes, not interested in the gossip. “Guns are worth a lot now a’days, plus we ain’t gonna have food forever. The places Carrie stashed her goods will be smart to grab,” he said, setting a squirrel hide to the side and grabbing another one of the small creatures. Shane didn’t say anything, knowing he wasn’t going to get anywhere with him.
“Merle, I’m gonna go down to the creek to wash clothes with the girls,” Carrie called out to him, not carrying the bag of laundry they had dragged out earlier, most of it his and Daryl’s things.
“Have fun washin’ mah nasties, suga’!” he called out. All he got in return was an eye-roll as she joined Carol, following the other women to the creek. It seemed that she was settling in easy, like he figured she would and that was good for her; Carrie had always been a social being.
As he watched Carrie disappear out of sight with the other women, he noticed how Ed seemed to follow them down there, making Merle’s eyes narrow dangerously. He and Daryl had identified him early on as a woman beater, knowing from their own experience; he didn’t touch the girl as he still had his wife, but both Dixons kept close eyes on the man whenever he was near the kids, not trusting him one bit.
“Ya see that?” he said under his breath, finishing up another squirrel and laying the hide out on the spit they had set up over their fire pit.
He knew that Shane’s eyes had followed easily, seeing as he was always an observant one. “Yeah, we’ll gotta keep an eye on him,” he said. Merle nodded, for once not feeling the urge to pop him in the mouth. He bid him off, Merle observing that he seemed to grab Carl and take him down to the quarry, something about frogs. He left Merle with his thoughts, gutting the squirrel and continuing his work. They were going to have enough skins to make a damn squirrel rug after this batch.
Carrie giggled at the conversation, making a quick wash of Daryl’s boxers, putting them in a neat pile to hang to dry later. She’d missed having girl talk, seeing as she spent a lot of her time before the world ended with the two Dixons and after the world ended she’d been alone. She had hated doing
They had gotten on the topic of things they had missed. Carrie had smiled widely thinking about before, shaking her head. “I miss going to the bar. Me and Merle would go and shoot pool almost every weekend or get a drink. The bartender was this nice old man, always kind, and I was always able to wiggle a few free drinks outta White when I pulled my shirt down,” she said, ending with a light wink at the group of giggling women. She joined in to, especially as Andrea said she missed her buzzing friend.
The giggles had erupted to full on laughter when meek little Carol had looked back at her husband before saying,” Me too.” She didn’t know her well, but just by judging her demeanor, Carrie could tell it was out of character. She leaned into Andrea from her seat on a bucket, laughing along. For a minute, it felt as if shit was actually normal for once.
Ed, Carol’s husband, apparently didn’t like the laughter going on, deciding quickly to ask what they thought was so funny when Andrea asked if he had a problem. Carrie stiffened, giving him a hard look as she continued with her laundry, glancing at Carol. Being a frequent at seedy bars, she’d seen plenty of Ed’s type around, not liking it one bit. She tried to catch Carol’s eye as Andrea continued on, trying to gauge the woman’s reaction.
“You outta focus on your work, this ain’t no comedy club,” Ed said casually, but his tone one of seriousness. Carrie rolled her eyes, knowing his stupid ass was standing there, smoking. She knew from the run-down on the camp that Ed did jack-shit for the camp; while Merle and Daryl weren’t contenders for Miss Personality, they at least could pull their own weight. All of the women scoffed under their breaths, although Carol seemed stiffened by her husband’s presence.
“And no fun allowed,” Carrie muttered under her breath, Andrea snorting from next to her.
They washed clothes in silence for a good ten minutes, and Carrie could practically feel Ed behind them, pacing around. Carrie met Andrea’s eyes, and the blonde finally stopped washing. She almost grinned—blondie had officially had it.
“You know what, Ed? If you don’t like how your laundry is done, feel free to do it yourself. Here,” she said, not an inch of fear as she tossed the shirt at him. Carrie watched, on the defense, but also in appreciation of the size of Andrea’s balls at the moment.
When he threw the shirt back with much more force, all of the women seemed to stand up, Carrie flanking Andrea instantly, holding her arm. She’d had plenty of experience with Ed’s type, as one did when they lived a life like she had, so Carrie knew to stay on the side of caution, able to pull her back if necessary.
“Ain’t my job,” he replied, taking another annoying puff of his cigarette. Carrie tried to hold Andrea’s arm back lightly and Amy’s pathetic attempt to have her back down did no help as she pulled forward.
“And what is your job, Ed?” she demanded. “Sitting on your ass, smoking cigarettes?”
Carrie assessed the situation, looking to see if there would be any more support besides the few of them. While she was sure they could hold their own, Ed probably had enough power behind his larger stature to knock a good one. The fight only seemed to escalate, especially as Ed demanded Carol come with him, throwing more insults Andrea’s way. Carrie tried to hold Carol off, but she seemed close to tears—either in fear or embarrassment of the situation.
Ed gripped a hold of her arm roughly, Carrie trying to get in between them as did Andrea, Jacqui and Amy both flanking, unsure. Their voices raised, Carrie’s own getting vocal as she tried to tell him to fuck off. “She ain’t goin’ with you!” she said, trying to lightly urge Carol to back off, that she didn’t need to go. His arm raised and he easily slapped Carol, causing them all to gasp. All hell broke lose in that moment.
The women quickly tried to defend Carol, getting her out of the way. Andrea and Carrie took the lead on fighting directly with him, Carrie because she knew she could fight a bit and Andrea because she was strong willed. Luckily, Carol sank away from their arms and away as Andrea and Carrie shoved him away in his attempts to grab his wife. “Leave her alone!” she yelled, feeling his strong grip trying to yank the two women out of the way. Carrie was much shorter than Andrea, at a slight disadvantage in the shoving.
And Ed was suddenly pulled away by Shane, leading him a few feet away before throwing him down and punching him. Carol began panicking, no doubt fearing she would be the brunt of punishment later, but they all held her back. She could tell Shane was going to beat him to a pulp, so Carrie quickly ran up the hill to get the only person he knew could pull him off.
“Merle! MERLE!” she yelled, waving her arms to get his attention from the fire pit. His head quickly snapped up from one of his last squirrels, throwing it down with hardly any hesitation at seeing her distress. He ran over with quick speed, as she pulled him and pointed at the scene where Shane was laying into Ed. “Get him to stop, he’s scaring Carol!” she said, pushing his shoulder. He nodded and quickly went down the small hill towards the two, grabbing Shane and ripping him off.
“Come on man, you’re scaring tha women, ya got him,” Merle said, Shane willingly rising from Ed’s body on the ground.
Shane pointed at him, giving one last final message before stalking off, Carol flocking to her husband on the ground immediately, sobbing over him. She watched in horror how she cried over him, unsure of how she could even think about caring for a man who did that. Merle had slapped her once, and she hadn’t planned on going back ever. Maybe Carrie was just ignorant to the cruel factors of life that went on before shit went to hell.
Merle joined her side as she continued to watch, Shane standing before stalking off in some other direction. She leaned into his side and his arm went around her instictively. “Thank you,” she said, knowing that Ed deserved more than what Shane had managed to give him, but she didn’t like Carol’s terror at the situation.
“You come an’ get me if this happens again, and you stay outta it, ya hear? Don’t need him hittin’ ya,” he said, and she nodded obidiently, knowing that she could have gotten hurt. If she’d gotten hrut, Merle would have murdered Ed without hesitattion, something that would probably give Carol a heart attack. “But I ain’t stoppin’ him next time.”
Carrie nodded, having already guessed that. “Let him have it, the fuckin’ scumbag.”
They watched a scene for a little longer before she returned down the the lake to finish the laundry as the situation deescalated, and Merle came with her, sitting on a rock a distance away, but still keeping watch as the women did their work. He met eyes with Andrea, whose eyes were trailing as Carol managed her disoriented husband out of the area, probably to their tent. She looked at him for a hard minute, before nodding at him, mouthing thanks to him. He nodded, waving for her to continue whatever work she had been doing.
It wasn’t much, but Merle took the appreciation shown to him and tucked it into the back of his mind to think on later.
NotesHope you enjoyed! Please leave feedback. I know this is following the show (except for Merle), but it will deviate once we hit the farm, as I'll be adding in comic influences.
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