Like Dying Embers
Carrie shuffled the deck of cards, trying to keep her mind off of Merle, who was on his bike, leading their pack of cars to their destination. They were heading away from Atlanta, and as their group had shrunk and gasoline was limited, they had to cut down on vehicles in order to sustain as much as possible. Everybody was crammed into the RV, save for Merle on the bike, Rick’s family and Carol and Sophia in her Cherokee.
She dealt quickly to Shane, Daryl, and T-Dog, the latter two who was sitting across from them, taking up his hand easily. After she finished her quick deal, she placed the deck down, looking over her cards, disinterested after the last few hands, but not desperately bored enough to brave hanging out with Dale and Glenn up front, who were busy navigating and checking in, and Andrea, who was in the back, bringing hell to anybody who dared speak to her. After they’d kicked Shane and her up from cleaning the guns so they could play, she’d retreated, sneering at the idea of playing some hands.
Carrie felt for her on some level, knowing that she had lost her choice to die peacefully with Jacqui, but she couldn’t help but also feel the woman should be a little grateful someone cared enough to die with her if she was going to stay. Merle wasn’t going to let her give up, and Carrie was happy to be alive knowing he needed her. It’d been an awkward conversation as everybody was prepping for Fort Benning, He’d all but told her if she tried to pull any pussy bullshit like that again, he’d leave her there, but Carrie knew it had been a bluff.
“Lil’ crowded, Dixon don’t let you ride his bike?” T-Dog asked, throwing down his card in their game of Spades.
Carrie shrugged, not answering, her eyes meeting the pale blue of Daryl’s across the table. Shane made a noise under his breath, wiping at his nose before commenting,” Bet Dixon lets her ride a lot of things.” The two laughed, Daryl shaking his head and Carrie’s lips trying to push down a smile, knocking her shoulder into Shane’s.
“‘Nough from you, pig,” she said, but her tone joking. “He’s a lil’ sore at me at the moment, but Merle gets pissy when his eggs aren’t cooked right.”
“He leave you sore at all?” T-Dog said, raising his eyebrows suggestively as he and Shane laughed again. She laughed too this time, throwing down her spade and claiming another hand.
Daryl threw his cards down at this action, having barely lost the hand to her yet again. “Damnit, ya fuckin’ always cheat when we play!” he spat, exasperated.
“I do not cheat, Daryl Dixon! Just because I got better hands, doesn’t mean—Hey, why we stopping?“ she stopped in the middle of her speech she gave whenever the Dixon boys accused her of cheating at games, trying to turn her body to peer out the front window.
“Christ,” Shane muttered, getting up from his seat next to her and turning to the front. She twisted her knees to the seat, peering out. It looked like the highway was blocked up pretty bad. Dale called out to Merle to find a way through, and the man nodded curtly, revving the bike forward through it.
“Maybe we can turn back? There’s an interstate bypass—“ Glenn started, trying to review the map.
“Can’t spare the fuel,” Dale rejected, slowly inching the RV forward to follow Merle’s careful path he started to weave. Andrea came from the back, and Carrie and her made eye contact, Andrea nodding at her once. Carrie returned the gesture, taking it as one of peace as the blonde came to settle in the seat next to her in a similar position, eyeing the stretch of blocked highway as all in the RV did.
They moved forward slowly, Carrie looking out the side window now as they passed overturned vehicles. It looked like something out of a movie, not real life. She grimaced as they passed cars full of people, some of families, all obviously who had been trying to escape but got stuck. Even though Atlanta wasn’t the most pleasant, she still had at least not been stuck in this chaos, dying from car wrecks.
She jumped, letting out a small yelp when something blew in the engine. Andrea stifled a laugh under her breath, and Carrie whispered a dejected ‘shut up’ under her breath, blushing that she had gotten scared at the engine’s outburst. They stopped, Dale exiting first before they all followed suit out. Carrie glanced around and saw Daryl immediately going to a trunk of a car, looking at the stuff inside, realization dawning on her as well as everybody else: they’d stumbled upon a gold mine.
“This is a graveyard,” Lori said, and everybody looked to her. Everyone was silent for a good minute, before she spoke again,” I don’t know how I feel about this.”
Carrie agreed in some way, but she shook her head. It was all just too good, too valuable. They needed these supplies. “A graveyard full of gold,” she said, moving back into the RV to grab her bat, avoiding Merle’s gaze that felt iron hot on her.
Everybody started on the move, going to different vehicles and looking for various things. She felt Merle following her, and she let him, not wanting to argue it for one, and also feeling safer knowing she’d be with him. She popped open the back of a random car down the lot, seeing it was packed with suitcases in the back. Ignoring the smell of the dead in the front, she opened one as Merle came beside her opening the other.
Clothes was what they mostly held, making Carrie grin. She had a few spare changes, but without washing them for a while, since she often just threw them out and grabbed new ones from the closet of the apartment, most of hers were stained and nasty. She rifled through, picking out a pair of jeans, stepping back and holding them to her bottom half.
“Look at these things, nice pair of Levis? Think these would make my ass look good?” she tried to joke as she checked the size tag. A size too big, but nothing a belt couldn’t fix, or if Andrea needed a new pair. Merle just rolled his eyes, looking through the clothes and pulling out a few clean shirts. She could see the small smile threatening to break, and she knew he wasn’t as mad as their before conversation.
“Think ya ass looks good in anythin’, sugartits,” he said plainly, tugging off his dirty shirt and throwing on a clean, dark gray wash. She hesitated before taking a small step forward, placing a hand on his chest and pressing her body close to his. He looked around for a second as she did, mostly making sure they didn’t have too full of an audience, save for Dale who was on the roof of the RV. She pushed herself up onto her toes, capturing his mouth with ease. His arms went around her, and Carrie knew that while he was still sore, she was partially forgiven.
“Please, just kiss me, Merle,” she practically begged, her eyes filling with tears as she grabbed his arm, him shaking it off roughly. They had gotten far enough away from the CDC, now prepping for the future travel.
Merle ran a hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You wanted to die,” he rasped at her, not even able to meet her gaze. She knew his icy eyes would be piercing, but she’d give anything for him to just look at her, to hold her.
She let out a small sob, her hands going to her eyes. “I was scared, I just… I was in another world. I’m sorry; I don’t want to die. I wanna live, I wanna live,” she cried into her hands, resting her back against the tree they had went to for privacy while the others prepped for their journey to Fort Benning.
She felt him come closer, and she sank into his warm, strong embrace easily, wrapping her arms around him and crying into his chest. “You ain’t gonna die, ever,” he whispered harshly, planting a kiss to the crown of her head before pulling it back to his chest, his chin resting on the top of her head. “You ever think about leavin’ me… You can’t leave me, girl, you can’t.”
He let go of her, walking briskly away and leaving her to cry alone by the tree as he rejoined the group. She sniffled and wiped her eyes, hating the tears that were flowing. She gathered herself up and glanced over, seeing his head over the back of a vehicle. You can’t leave me. Carrie drew in a deep breath, wiping at her face one more time before fanning air to her, trying to clear up the puffy mess she probably looked like. He saved her, not for the righteous reason Dale saved Andrea, and not because he felt responsible, but because he needed her.
She pushed herself off of the truck and sauntered back, quickly joining in to help prepare to leave. If Merle needed her like she needed him, then she could handle anything.
Carrie shook the memory from earlier in the day as she kissed him, letting his lips capture hers deeply. Her heart soared, knowing she was forgiven, or at least he wasn't going to hold it against her forever. Life was too short for that now. They pulled apart, going back to their task. She quickly dumped out the suitcase onto the ground, throwing in the better looking clothing that looked like it would fit the camp, as well as the undergarments. Merle threw in most of the male clothes, not being as picky as she was. Before they could make more work of the car, which seemed to have more supplies than just clothing, there was a huge hiss of Merle’s name in their direction, the person being Rick. He was crouched, looking panicked. Everybody was diving under cars. Carrie’s head whipped to see the oncoming walkers—and a lot of them.
Merle quickly grabbed her, practically tossing her to the ground. She felt her arms scrape, but her mind could hardly care as she rolled under the car, Merle rolling under the one next to her. She was on her stomach, her head flipping from Merle to the other cars, seeing the children near by. She didn’t have a site on Daryl, something that made her heart rapidly pound. She looked back to Merle, mouthing his brothers name to him. Merle nodded once to her, and she tried to take that as he had sights on him. She tried to relax, her eyes wide as she watched the shoes of the dead shuffle by her. Carrie had never felt more stiff and on edge in her entire life. One mistake and they were done; one caught a sniff of her, it was over.
What could have been minutes felt like hours as they laid there, waiting for the feet to pass. Eventually, they did, and Carrie glanced to her other side, looking up a few cars and two loan pairs of feet. Her eyes widened as she saw the small form of Sophia starting to shuffle from under the car, right towards the pair of feet. She wanted to shout a warning, but she knew she couldn’t. Without thinking, Carrie quickly starting shuffling out from her hiding place, ignoring Merle’s hissed whispered at her to stop.
Rick was already out and after the girl, who had started screaming and running down the bank, chasing her down the slope. Carrie swooped her bat from the ground, quickly taking off after the two without even thinking. The group started to run out, Carrie jumping over the railing and sliding down after them. “Carrie!” Merle snapped, trying to go after her, but she was quicker.
“There’s two, I’m gonna help!” she called back, too fast for anybody to grab her. She didn’t know why she was going after the girl, other than the fact that she felt a small connection. They’d only had meager interactions together, during homework time or while eating, even comforting her when her father had died. She was just a little girl, and Carrie wanted to make sure she was safe.
“Carrie!” he shouted her name again, this time sounding angry, finally free of the car.
“I’m fast!” she yelled upward, running down after the Rick and Sophia, ignoring the group as she hurried down, practically rolling down the hill. It was the only quality that had kept her alive through this shit, and damn if she was gonna let a little girl get hurt because of it. She was quick, running after them with speed and trying to dodge rocks and trees the best she could. Carrie almost felt like she was back in Atlanta mode, where she would turn off every sense but running, focusing on her goal: get the girl, get her back.
She saw Rick carrying Sophia and running with her. “Rick!” she hissed, and he looked briefly only to acknowledge her and kept going. Carrie pushed herself more, the air feeling like it was gushing out of her lungs as she strained to push forward after the two. She didn’t bother going after the two walkers, her brain only focused on the girl and keeping her safe.
Rick had placed her in the creek, encouraging her to hide. Sophia was visibly shaken by the ordeal, pleading him not to leave her. “Don’t worry sweetie, I’ll stay with you. Here,” she shoved the bat to Rick,” I’ll watch her, take that in case. If anything happens, I’ll protect her.” She trusted Rick to do the task more than herself, and looking into his hard, determined eyes, she felt nothing but pure adoration and loyalty to the man she accredited to saving her from Atlanta by just showing up.
He took the bat with a nod. “If I don’t make it back, run to the highway,” he told them and Carrie quickly took the frightened Sophia under her arm, tucking into the small brush cave in the creek. “Keep the sun on your left shoulder,” he instructed, gripping Carrie’s arm quickly.
“I’ll protect her with my life,” she promised. Rick nodded once before starting the back up, picking up the attention of the walkers on the bank.
“Come on!” he yelled, splashing water down the creek. She held Sophia tightly, planting herself in place and hugging the girl under her arm.
“It’s okay, sweetie, you’re alright,” she whispered, hugging her shaking form.
“I’m scared,” Sophia whispered, and Carrie ran a hand down her hair.
“Don’t be. Rick is smart, and I’ve got you. We’ll be okay,” Carrie whispered back, rubbing her back.
After a few minutes of waiting, and complete silence. “Stay here for a second,” Carrie whispered to her, stepping out of the creek bed and glancing around. Not seeing any signs of walkers, she motioned Sophia out, holding her hand out for her. “Come on, Sophia, let’s getcha back to your momma,” she said softly, the girl clutched her doll tightly in one arm, the other hand reaching out and taking hers carefully.
Snarls broke out, and Carrie looked up the bank and saw a walker there. It must have stayed up, unlike the other one. She reached for her weapon, but quickly realized she’d given Rick the only thing she had had on her. Her face drained of color and Sophia cried out as the walker fell down the bank towards them, trying to stumble up again. Carrie set her jaw, determined to escape this thing. “Hop on my back, quick!” she said to the girl, and Sophia quickly obliged. The girl weighed almost nothing, and while Carrie wasn’t very strong or as fast with the girl on her back, she made quick out of the bank, running off away from the creek as fast as she could with the girl on her back, trying to go up the direction Rick had pointed out.
Carrie ran, trying to get back to the highway, but two more walkers stumbled in the wood, right in the way. “Shit!” she hissed, veering off course and quickly taking off in the other direction. Her adrenaline was pumping hard, her legs pumping hard, trying to move through the trees and escape the growls. Eventually, after making sure she ran a fair amount away, even after the walkers were out of sight, Carrie came to a halt, glancing around. She wasn't sure how far she had ran, but she had ran for at least twenty minutes, just trying to get far enough away. Her adrenaline fueled strength failed her then as she stopped, and although Sophia was lanky and light, running with that weight didn't help her energy.
“Alright, Soph, hop down,” she told her softly as she crouched for the girl to hop off easily, taking in steady breaths, trying to regain her air. Carrie looked up to the sun, squinting her eyes as she tried to see in through the dense trees. “Sun on our left shoulder, huh? Hard to see where the sun is at all,” Carrie commented, looking back to the girl. She was clutching her doll tightly, tears in her eyes. Carrie crouched to her, getting her eye level. “Hey, it’s gonna be alright. We’ll start walking, see where we end up, okay? The others will come for us, and you’ll be back with Carol in no time, okay? Don’t cry.” The girl nodded, wiping her eyes and pushing her hand into Carrie’s. The older woman smiled down at her before picking a direction and started to walk. What she wouldn’t give for the Dixons and their sense of direction to lead them back; Carrie wasn’t even sure how far or long she had ran away from the highway.
Sophia wasn’t much of a talker as they made their way through the woods, likely still shaken from the incident. “Hey, ya wanna run? May blow off some steam,” Carrie suggested, but the girl didn’t bite, holding her doll close to her chest. Carrie bumped her lightly as they walked, getting her attention. She grinned at her childishly. “Come on, I’ll race ya. If you beat me, Merle will never let it down,” Carrie said, trying to entice her into the game. Sophia’s lips slowly curled into a smile before she took off running.
Carrie’s jaw dropped as she watched the girl run ahead of her. “Little shit,” she said to herself, grinning before quickly taking off after her. She lingered behind as she ran, letting the girl win as much as she could but still keeping her in sight. “Slow own, Usain Bolt!” she joked, and even though she was sure the joke was lost on the girl, Sophia still laughed.
They kept on for a while with their game, Carrie going ahead of her a few times just for Sophia to run ahead of her, pushing her skinny legs as much as she could. Carrie could tell as the darkness was settling in, that it was getting later, and since there was no sign of highway anywhere, they’d likely been going in the wrong direction. “Okay, you win! Too fast for me,” Carrie called out to her, the girl slowing to let her catch up.
“You’re really fast too; I must be super fast,” Sophia said, smiling at her, all trace of the earlier trauma practically gone from her face. Carrie smiled back at her, letting the girl grab her hand with ease.
“Super fast,” she agreed with a nod, pulling her along as they moved forward. Glancing at the surroundings, Carrie sighed, seeing how dark it was starting to get. “Think I led us the wrong way, Sophia,” she admitted, the dread starting to fill her at the idea of being lost in the middle of the woods at night, knowing walkers were in there.
The girl was silent as they pulled to a stop, glancing around before squinting up at her. “Maybe we find a place to stay for the night, wait for the others to find us?” Sophia suggested hesitantly, almost unsure if she should have said anything. Carrie knew from her short time at camp that Ed had beat her, and it pissed Carrie off knowing that she was afraid to speak up because of him. She knew that was why Daryl and Merle had soft spots for the girl, both having had the same childhood. Herself? She still hadn’t figured out why she had cared enough to run after her.
“That’s an excellent idea, Sophia. Let’s walk a little bit more ’til we find a place to rest our heads,” Carrie praised her, enjoying the way her face lit up. “Come on, sweet girl, if we jog we may get there quicker.”
Sophia squeezed her hand as two two began jogging together in the direction they had already been heading. No use in turning back, knowing they had gone pretty far away from that direction and had seen nothing close to shelter. “Don’t worry, Miss Carrie, they’ll come find us, Mister Grimes and your husband,” Sophia told her, still holding her hand tight as they jogged through the woods.
Carrie felt her face flush, and she tried to pass it off to the fact that she’d been doing a lot of running. “Merle’s not my husband, he’s just—uh—he’s just my boyfriend,” Carrie said, though she hated the title of boyfriend. It felt almost childish, like she was back in high school, but Sophia was indeed a child.
“Oh,” she said, letting it go. “Look! A house!” she called, pointing forward towards a small shack up ahead.
“Good eye,” Carrie told her. “Come on, let’s hurry,” she said, both of them hurrying towards it as the woods parted. It was getting darker, and the house was also dark. Either nobody was inside, power was off, or someone was hiding within.
They came up to the front. Carrie put her hands on Sophia’s shoulders, looking directly into her dark eyes. “I gotta check the house to make sure it’s safe. I need you to stay right here,” she told her, the girl instantly shaking her head.
“No, no, don’t leave me alone, please don’t” she whimpered, clutching Carrie’s arms.
“It’ll take a quick minute, I gotta make sure there ain’t no biters,” she tried to reassure her.
“But what if there is? What am I supposed to do? It’s dark, and I’m scared,” Sophia said, and Carrie couldn’t help but agree the girl had a point. “Let me help, I’ll stick close, I promise,” she begged, not wanting to be left alone outside.
Carrie weighed her options, licking her lips as she analyzed the girl’s face. If she went in and found trouble, she would be leaving Sophia to fend for herself in the dark. They had no weapons, and it would be a shit show, ending badly for both of them. Sophia had a determined look on her face, despite the tears, and after a minute, looking away towards the tree-line, before looking back to her face, pointing a finger in her face. “You stick right by me. If there are biters, you run away, try and find something sharp, and you leave me, okay?” Sophia nodded furiously, and Carrie sighed before letting her go, inching towards the door of the house.
She pressed her ear against the door, listening carefully, thinking back to when she had cleared apartment rooms on the floor of the building she stayed in. “You wanna listen first, see if ya hear any noise,” Carrie told her quietly, Sophia leaning and pressing her own ear against the door and listening herself.
“That’s right, but sometimes walkers stay hidden, or are quiet when they are rustled. Gotta be careful,” she told her, grimacing and thinking about her first time raiding a room, being crudely awaken to that fact when a walker had attacked her, though she heard nothing behind the silent door. Carrie then pounded her hand hard on the door, knocking with heavy energy, causing Sophia to jump. “You knock, make a noise, do something to get attention. If something is behind the door, it’ll let you know,” she explained to her. There was no response or noise to her knocking. She looked down to Sophia and saw her diligently listening.
The girl shook her head. “Still don’t hear anything,” she said. Carrie nodded, agreeing with her. “That’s good, right?” Sophia asked her, trying to confirm.
“Most of the time it is, still gotta be careful,” Carrie told her. Carrie gripped the door handle and twisted it; unlocked. “Right behind me, okay? And remember, any trouble—“
“I run, find the others, right back in the direction we came. Find something sharp,” Sophia answered instantly. Carrie nodded, giving her a tight smile; girl was a quick learner, smart.
Turning back to the door handle, Carrie twisted it again, slowly pushing it open. The house was dark, the only light inside was from the lingering sun from the last bit of day. Carrie peered inside, not seeing anything within, or hearing anything. She pushed open the door, her arms out, creeping easily into the house, feeling Sophia following behind her.
Carrie pressed a finger to her lips, signaling Sophia to be quiet. There were open doors and open rooms on the first floor; any walkers would have heard them. Still, Carrie crept around each corner, picking up a blunt bowl in a cabinet, Sophia doing the same. She led her through the broken down house, effectively finding it safe. Carrie let her guard down, letting an uneasy breath out. “Clear,” Carrie said shakily, letting out a small laugh. “Let’s find a flashlight or something; something we can get light from,” she instructed, and Sophia nodded, eagerly starting to open up drawers while Carrie moved to open a pantry door. She found a blanket and pillow, as well as smoother food and drinks. She smiled to herself, quickly making work of grabbing something for them to eat. Sophia cheered behind her, having found a drawer of candles and a flashlight.
They lit up the back room with the candles, propping the flashlight up with some books. It was still dark, and a bit cold in the night, but it was safe. Sophia was wrapped up in the blanket, the pillow right by where she was going to sleep on the ground. She was gladly eating out of the canned fruit, taking sips of the juice in the pantry. Carrie was enjoying her own juice, stomaching the tuna can as much as she could; she’d let Sophia have the tastier dish out of kindness.
Carrie found herself staring at her, realizing that the girl reminded her of Carrie’s sister when they were younger. Gen had always been the innocent one of the two, younger and full of life. As kids, Gen always trailed behind her, asking her questions and talking her ear off. When Carrie had disappointed their parents, losing their love, Gen had always stuck by her, loving her no matter what. They’d grown apart as Carrie drifted, Gen’s childlike innocence never working in her life, especially with their parents pulling them apart.
“Y’know, me and my sister used to do stuff like this,” Carrie shared, throwing her empty tuna can to the side. “We used to have sleepover parties in my bedroom, use a flashlight and tell stories.”
Sophia smiled, putting her can aside and tightening the blanket around her shoulders. “I always wanted a sibling. It’s just been me. Gets lonely,” Sophia said, glancing up to Carrie’s eyes. “What’s your sister like? Is she nice?”
“Too nice, always got along better with everyone. I’ve always been a little wild,” Carrie said, laughing softly to herself. “Genny was my best friend when we were younger, but we grew apart. She got married, got to have a good life.” Carrie frowned, twiddling her thumbs. She wasn’t sure how to feel, thinking about Gen and not knowing where she was, or if she was alive. After what she’d seen, it wasn’t a world she was sure that her sister would survive in at all.
Carrie glanced up to Sophia. Gen didn’t look anything like the girl, but Sophia had her spirit. Carrie smirked, shaking her head and looking to the ground. “We should get some sleep. It’s been a long day,” she told her, and Sophia nodded, laying her head on the pillow and trying to get comfortable. Carrie scooted back until she was propped against the wall, deciding to sleep as alert as possible.
“Miss Carrie?” Sophia’s small voice asked.
“Just Carrie, Sophia.”
“Carrie… are we friends?”
Carrie sat back for a minute, unsure what to say. She took a deep breath before letting out, a smile gracing her face. “I’ll tell you what—we can be sisters, okay? I don’t got mine, and you’ve always wanted one. If you like, of course,” Carrie told her softly. She’d never been one that had many interactions with kids, but she found herself thinking that Sophia was just alright. If there were more kids like her in the world, maybe it would be less shitty.
She saw Sophia smile in the dim light of the flashlight that washed over her. “Okay. When we get back, we can tell Momma. She’ll like that, I think. I know she doesn’t think Mister Dixons are so bad. Mister Merle peeled an orange for me once,” she shared before yawning deeply. Carrie smiled at that, knowing that the Dixons’ soft spot for her was likely what Carol didn’t mind.
“Sleep, sweet girl,” she told her again, leaning over to blow out the candles around them.
“Night Carrie,” Sophia said softly before quieting. Carrie stayed silent, closing her eyes as she leaned against the wall, listening to Sophia’s breathing as it slowed and evened out.
Tomorrow, the others would come looking for them. With Daryl and Merle, hopefully they’d be able to track the two of them down and bring Sophia back to her mother. The little girl deserved to live, and Carrie would die trying to make that happen, though she hoped it wouldn’t come close to that.
Starting to dive off a bit from TV canon (obviously). This is where things will change and go to a mixture of TV, AU, and comics. Hope you enjoy, and that you're excited for future chapters!