A/N: No excuses. Just inadequate updating from me, for which I sincerely apologize. I hope my readership is still out there! I never meant for it to be this long between updates. So basically, what I'm saying, is I'm an ass.
Question: How are you guys liking the season so far?
Disclaimer: I don't own the Walking Dead. If I did, well, hell, I'd be livin' it up with Norman and the rest of that loveable bunch!
Chapter Twenty-Six: Hope
Breezing past the table, I paused at the front of the RV. Danny and Riley were in the front seats, Danny behind the wheel, both of them staring up at me as I approached. I offered the pair a smile, not bothering to wait and see if they would return it, and hopped out into the darkened street.
We'd find her this time.
"If it wasn't for him… Otis was a brave man," Shane, looking more strung out than Merle on a good day, raked a hand over his shaved head, looking incredibly out of place in a pair of oversized overalls, "what he did for Carl…"
Guess who ended up being wrong?
It wasn't the first time, nor would it be the last, but as we left the highway, leaving behind some sorry excuse of a note and some food and water for Sophia, we made our way to the farm. Wasn't sure what we'd find there, but it was, apparently, better than waiting for walkers to mow down on us in our sleep.
Try telling that to Carol who, despite her lack of assistance, refused to leave her daughter behind. It was only when we practically hog-tied her to the passenger seat in the RV and swore that we'd keep looking for her daughter that she let up and sat back in defeat. Daryl took the lead on that one, implying that he wouldn't rest until the little girl was safe and sound in her mother's arms.
I didn't like the way Carol looked at Daryl as he stormed off, hopping from the RV with an irritable growl.
Shifting uneasily beside Daryl, I chanced a glance at the rebellious hunter. His weight on one foot, he kept a hold of his crossbow as it hung over his shoulder, his dark, sapphire eyes narrowed against the blinding Georgia sun. He didn't focus much on what was being said – neither was I for that matter; I didn't know Otis and, even if he had given his life for Carl, I found it kind of hard to connect.
Instead, he studied our surroundings, glancing from where our vehicles were parked near a beautiful, antebellum farmhouse, to the massive, worn down, wooden barn off on the edge of the farm, to the fields on the off chance any walkers were in the area, to me.
His grimace barely faltered, though he did tilt his head to one side, his brow furrowing slightly in a silent question.
Did I want to go looking for Sophia with him or did I want to stay at the farmhouse and rest?
The choice was harder than he probably thought. Sure, sleeping sounded heavenly, especially since I now knew my brother – and Carl and T-Dog – were alright, but that would leave him on his own again, something that didn't sit well with me. As much as Daryl liked to prove he was a loner, he needed someone to look out for him.
He might not have admitted it, but I think it pleased him that I was willing to accept that challenge. He wasn't always the easiest guy to get along with, something he'd admit to you in a heartbeat, but, well, he was my hunter. It's kind of what you did when you were in love with a guy, especially with the threat of walkers out there.
The blonde woman across from me let out a pitiful whimper, leaning against the owner of the farm, an elderly man named Hershel, for support. He patted her back, brushing a hand through her hair, murmuring gently to her as she bawled into his chest.
She was Otis's wife, if memory served. The others on the farm, Maggie – the girl who had absconded with Lori – her sister Beth, and a boy named Jimmy, they all appeared upset by Otis's death, but she… she loved that man.
Swallowing the lump in the back of my throat, I cradled Jake to my chest and tried to tune out Shane's awkward eulogy.
We hadn't found Sophia, obviously, or Carol wouldn't look half as put out as she did now. Despite our best efforts – even a little camaraderie forming between Andrea and Daryl over Daryl's self-sufficiency and poison oak toilet paper as a kid – we hadn't been able to find her. So the hunt would begin again, after we paid respects to the man who had died to give Shane a chance to save Rick's son.
Even though Daryl and the others managed to convince me that Sophia's disappearance was neither my fault nor Rick's, it still didn't sit right with me that we leave her behind. I don't think anyone was happy about it, Danny going insofar as opposing Daryl's idea, but the longer we stayed away from the rest of our group, the more dangerous things became.
I could hardly believe that those words came from my hunter and his previous 'I don't need nobody' mentality.
Since the weather was still nice and the ride to the farm wasn't all that far, Daryl had taken his bike from the back of the truck and led the way. If anything approached, be it a walker or Sophia, he would be the first to know about it. We all hoped Sophia would just come stumbling out of the forest, wave her arms, a little dirty and banged up, but bite-less and completely alive.
"Cat, can I talk to you?"
Leave it to me to be the only one standing around Otis's makeshift grave – for obvious reasons, Shane hadn't been able to bring the body back – the rest of the party already dissipated and going about with their daily lives.
Well, I shouldn't say I was the only one; Daryl hung back a bit, allowing me privacy for whatever reason I needed it. Maybe I was thinking of my parents or someone I'd lost; he couldn't be sure and he wouldn't interrupt, but he wouldn't let me altogether out of his sight.
But it wasn't my hunter who had spoken; it was Shane.
Shaking off an uneasy chill that washed over me – mostly because he looked as though he wasn't in his right mind (understandably so, but still…) – I tilted my head, clearing away my thoughts, "Sure; what's up?"
Jerking his chin toward what appeared to be a shed, he offered me a tense, lopsided grin, "Wanna walk with me?"
Inadvertently, my gaze shifted toward Daryl, wondering if he'd heard the ex-deputy's request and what he made of it. Cuz I couldn't make squat out of that.
Wander off on the farm, why?
We didn't even know if we were allowed to stay. Rick was working on that bit and, hell, I had my fingers crossed. It seemed like a nice place with good people; sure they were a little standoffish – but who wouldn't be?
If a group of strangers – all packin' heat – approached my turf, I'd be a little wary, too. Hopefully, I would let them stay – which I sincerely wanted these people to do – but it was a new world.
Depending on what they were like.
I just hoped our general filth and awful appearances didn't throw them off too much. It wasn't like the road had an overabundance of showers, right? Still, looking at Daryl, I had to wince; filthy didn't even begin to describe him at that moment.
And furious didn't even begin to cover the look on his face as he glowered across the field at Shane. Close enough that the cop's words reached his ears, they obviously didn't put his mind at ease. Especially since he wanted to lead me toward some shed, alone, without him there to keep an eye on me.
Not that I couldn't handle myself if Shane wanted to try something – and, in all honesty, I wouldn't put it past him with the way he'd been acting toward Lori and, well, not to be cocky or anything, but me, too, for that matter.
Still, the olive-skinned man persisted, a slightly disarming grin on his face, "C'mon, Cat. What's a little walk gonna hurt? Just wanna know how the search last night went."
He could've asked Daryl, or Andrea, for that matter, or anyone who had just joined the farm party a few hours ago; they all knew and it wasn't like we found anything of importance.
But curiosity – mostly to see why in God's name Shane was acting in such a, well, un-Shane-like manner – got the better of me and I nodded, adjusting the crossbow over my shoulder in a display of mock toughness. Trotting after him, I tossed a glance over my shoulder at the hunter; eyes wide and brows high in an exaggerated grimace.
It didn't amuse Daryl – in all honesty, I doubted it would, by why not try? – but he made no move to follow me. Hell, he probably would at some point, trailing after me at a far enough distance to keep him out of sight, but close enough to intervene if necessary. Shane probably wouldn't even notice, distracted as he was.
Returning my attention to said dazed cop, I fell in step beside him, casting him a sidelong glance. He didn't speak, his jaw tense, his nostrils flared; uneasily, I clutched at my crossbow and cleared my throat, querying, "So… last night?"
He appeared startled, as though he'd forgotten I was there – who wouldn't be a little distracted when the guy you went out with on a life or death run got torn apart? Biting the tip of his tongue, he drew his lips to one side and nodded, "Yeah. What happened? Find any sign of her?"
"Nooo," I replied, slowly, disconcertedly. Did no one fill him in? I mean, if we found some kind of sign, we, at least a portion of us, wouldn't be there. We'd be put looking for her, obviously. Or she would already be there with us; knowing Daryl and how he'd taken up the gauntlet of finding the girl himself, if there was even a single, solitary sign that she was out there, he'd find her.
"Damn," he muttered, rubbing his jaw vigorously, his dark eyes blazing, "we should go out lookin' for her…"
"Daryl's planning on it," I replied, awkwardly jerking a thumb over my shoulder, before glancing down at the ex-officer's leg. He had a noticeable limp, one that probably resulted from trying to outrun the walkers he'd encountered the night before. But if he was limping, why wouldn't he have gotten taken down, too? Walkers didn't discriminate; they would take both him and Otis down if they could. "I might go with him; I dunno, I haven't decided yet."
"You should stay here," he commented, offering me a sympathetic grin before I could respond with a snappy retort, "you could gimme a hand. I wanna get these people trained."
"Trained?" I repeated, brows furrowing low over my eyes, absently swiping at the gnats buzzing about my face, "for what?"
"C'mon," he laughed deprecatingly, a broad grin on his oval face, "you can't tell me you really think these people can handle those guns, can you? I mean, none of 'em – you included – really know how to use them weapons."
"I dunno, some of us can handle 'em well enough," I answered hotly, quirking a dangerous brow and sneering.
He paused, hands fisted on his hips, legs spread wide, regarding me with the utmost surprise, "Calm down, girl; I didn't mean…" Sighing, he rubbed his shaved head vigorously, his dark eyes dropping in apology, "I don't need ya to train, I just… wanted ya there… Keep me company, ya know?"
Errrr, no? No, I didn't know; since when did Shane and I ever just hang out? He could have the others as company, like always.
I had better things to do than stand around and train people who probably had worked a gun before – they lived on a farm, out in the country; it wasn't a longshot, right?
Namely, finding a little girl that no one else seemed frantic enough to find.
"Sorry, Shane, but I've gotta go," I replied, covering up the flush of awkwardness that rose in me by turning and squinting against the sun, "we need to go as soon as we can; use as much daylight as we can…"
Was it just me or did he look genuinely put out by my refusal?
Bewilderment didn't even begin to cover what I was feeling, hovering awkwardly beside the ex-deputy, but I swallowed any confusion and patted him on the shoulder, "I'll see you when I get back, though, right? Maybe they have some marshmallows; we can roast 'em over the fire or something…"
The laugh I forced from my mouth was about as fake as the occasional smile Lori sent me, but Shane bought it. Or pretended to.
Honestly, I didn't really know what was going on. It was one of those moments where you played along, but inside you knew absolutely nothing, floundering for an answer or at least a thread of understanding.
He caught my hand, gave it a light squeeze, and limped toward camp. Lip curling and jaw dropping, I watched him go, utterly floored.
"What the fuck?"
Peering over my shoulder, I offered Daryl a snort, nodding slowly at his sage comment as he stalked from a massive willow he'd planted himself behind. His eyes shifted from me to the deputy once, twice, his brow furrowed low over his eyes in blatant confusion.
"My sentiments exactly," I breathed, reaching out and catching his arm as he made to stride past me, after Shane, "hey, hey, hey. Don't go all macho-alpha-male on me, now, Dixon."
Though his shoulders remained tensed, his jaw set, his eyes cut to mine in reluctant acceptance. His back to me, he remained still, silent, as I fisted my hands on my hips, "We need to get going if we're gonna find her before dark."
"You comin'?" he inquired gruffly, his gaze unwillingly flitting toward Shane once more, "sure you don't wanna stay behind, give him a hand?"
Eyes drifting upward, I shook my head, clicking my tongue, and slinging my arm through his. Resting my chin on his shoulder, I batted my eyelashes in exaggeration, winking saucily, "I'd rather give you a hand, Daryl."
He snorted, a begrudging smirk dashing across his face as he elbowed me gently in the stomach. He pressed a kiss to my forehead before snaking an arm around my waist, "C'mon, Kit. We're wastin' daylight…"
Holy balls, was this harder than I thought. Daryl and I had covered more ground than I thought we could in a few hours, but still there was no sign of the little girl. How far could she have gone in the time she had been apart from us? She was a small thing, and scared; she would get tired, hopefully find some shelter… and stay there.
But she could have gone anywhere, in any direction. She could have taken one, single step to the left and we would never find her.
I couldn't think like that, though. Daryl wasn't; he was absolutely convinced that we would find Sophia. It would happen, he was sure; it was just a matter of when. And, of course, when we found her, she would be fine. Perfectly, completely, utterly fine.
I wished I could be as confident.
But, as we wandered toward an abandoned farmhouse – the fifth of the day – I raked a hand through my hair and cracked my back, "I think I'll just hang out out here, babe."
The hunter turned to me, brows resting heavily over his bright eyes; ducking his head, he glanced suspiciously around the small, overgrown lawn. He looked for the threat, I knew, in the knee-high grass, wondering if it was safe enough to leave me all by my lonesome. Instead of voicing that, though – knowing I would probably scowl and fold my arms over my chest in defiance – he nodded once, moving closer, "You sure?"
"Yeah," I nodded, offering him a rather forced grin and pressing a hand to his perspiring chest, "call me if you find anything, okay?"
He nodded, resting his forehead against mine. Taking the initiative, I leaned upward, capturing his mouth in a swift, reassuring kiss, "Go on, then."
He shook his head – he would never roll his eyes, but if ever there were a moment, it would be the one where I ushered him on like an obedient pup would be it – but obliged. Not before giving my ass a quick slap, enjoying my indignant huff as he went.
With him preoccupied inside, I set about searching the surrounding area. There were plenty of roses, pretty, pale things, growing wild, and a handful of thistles and dandelions, but no evidence of a person in a good long time. I was no tracker, but I could tell a pair of footprints in the grass would be a recent thing; probably in the last week if there had been no rain.
But what the hell did I know?
Strolling through the yard, eyes wide and searching, I kept one ear on the house at my rear. As to whether or not Daryl would call me if he needed help, I doubted it; he was a hunter, a killer. He could take down a few walkers without my help.
But if Sophia was in there, I hoped he would holler; she would need attention immediately and, while I wasn't an expert, I was the one with the first aid kit in my pack.
I had stayed outside, not for a lack of desire in finding Sophia, but I was… I was tired of not finding her. Exploring another empty farmhouse with no evidence of her ever even being there… The guilt of spending time looking in a place where she clearly wasn't when we could have spent that time looking in a place where she was…
It was exhausting.
I couldn't imagine the guilt I would feel not looking for her, though. Despite how much Carol loved that little girl – and I knew that she did, I had seen it daily – I couldn't understand why she wasn't helping us. It did her no good sitting around on her ass; Sophia wouldn't know where that farm was and, if she even stumbled upon it, she wouldn't know her mother was there. It was such a longshot that she would find Hershel's home that I couldn't fathom just… waiting.
If Jake had been lost, wandering the woods… I would be doing the same thing I was doing now.
A shudder ran through me at the thought, but I dodged it, swallowing my fear; he was safe. Safe and sound back at the farm, surrounded by plenty of people who could protect him…
Sophia didn't have that luxury right now.
Without a word, I slung my crossbow around, tucking it against my shoulder, and dashed into the house, heedless of the threat of walkers. Heart in my throat, I chased after the echoing sound of Daryl's voice, finding him crouched before a small, open cupboard, a ratty blanket in his hand.
Breathless, I pressed my back to the wall, sliding down until I leveled my gaze with the hunter. His bright eyes wide, he held up the blanket and a small, open can of meat, evidence that someone had been there recently. The meat was still moist, meaning it hadn't been open for very long. The Georgia heat would suck whatever moisture it could as quickly as possible.
Someone had eaten it, and not just a walker. They weren't cognizant enough to work the tab open. A living, breathing human had done that.
And it was someone small enough to fit inside the cupboard.
Daryl hauled me to my feet, ushering me toward the door, her name bursting from his mouth furiously, desperately. I mimicked him, eyes wild, as I searched the empty fields for any sign of her.
My hunter made a short dash around the house, and, after a moment of his absence, I shot off to find him. He panted as he crouched low to the ground, his hand trailing over a set of small footprints leading away from the house and into what looked like a miniature swamp.
He cursed our luck; there was no way to follow someone's tracks through the puddles and ponds she had trekked through. And, to make matters worse, the sun began waning, dipping back behind the swaying trees.
"Shit," I cursed, scratching fervently at my temple, "Sophia! Sophia, can you hear me?!"
"She's long gone, Kit," Daryl grumbled, hauling himself to his feet, lip curling over his teeth in agitation as he stared hard at the little steps molded into the ground, "these're about a day, day an' a half old. Don't know what made her leave, but she ain't been back."
"She's covered a lot of ground over the last few days," I noted anxiously, peering at the unfamiliar fields around us, "how far do you think she'll be when we pick it back up tomorrow?"
"Not sure," he sighed, toeing at the print with his aged boots, "but we will find her."
The news we brought back to camp had been enough to instill some cheer into our once dejected group. While some of us argued that we should pick up the trail (which, Daryl argued, was nonexistent and couldn't have been followed if we wanted) where we had left off, the rest agreed that more searchers at dawn would be the best way to go.
Even better was the news that Hershel was letting us stay, if only on the grounds of his farm, for as long it took for Carl to heal up. Rick didn't have much of an answer when I asked him about afterwards, but I knew if anyone could convince the elderly farmer to allow us to stay, it was him.
Shane gave me a warm, lingering hug – one that had me wriggling uncomfortably against his broad chest until he let me go with a sheepish grin – and Dale pressed a kiss to my cheek, assuring me that we had done well.
Carol, holed up in the RV, emerged, clutching to the beer bottle Daryl had stuck one of those pretty Cherokee roses into. She had a soft, distant smile on her face, her eyes searching for the man who had been dedicated enough to find her daughter.
She found him next to me, sitting beside the campfire, digging into a plate of beans after our long day out in the woods. He didn't pay her any mind, muttering through a mouthful that he wanted to take one of Hershel's horses in the morning. He'd be able to cover more ground that way; we should all grab a horse and go off on different directions.
I was all for it, which was quite the opposite of how I felt about Carol's wistful stares.
Daryl had been surprisingly thoughtful to the grieving woman by offering her the rose; it was a symbol, he said, of hope, a clear sign that we would find Sophia in the morning. That she was still out there. That she was safe.
Shooting the hunter a subtle glance, I wondered if he would do that for Jake if he went missing. Immediately, I scolded myself, glancing quickly at my lap in shame. It was enough to catch the man's attention, his knee nudging mine in a silent question.
"Nothing," I replied shortly, "just being stupid."
And stupid it was, thinking that Daryl felt something for Carol. If anything, he felt sorry for her; he had made that clear in his valiant attempts at finding her daughter. But feeling for her… it was laughable, right?
Jaw dropping in surprise, I stared up at him in astonishment. Instead of apologizing – for agreeing to my stupidity, no less – he peered over toward Carol, who had taken up a spot beside a tense Lori and made small talk with the sheriff's wife.
"Ain't nothin' there," he responded, his tone gruff for being so low, "you know that. You think I think there's anything goin' on between you an' him?"
He jerked his head toward Shane, who had positioned himself beside Andrea of all people, the pair of them talking in soft, subdued tones.
"I know there ain't, cuz I know you," he continued, shoving another forkful into his mouth and shrugging, "an' you know me."
"I know," I replied, deciding to swallow my sheepishness and lean closer to the man, "you gonna give me any of those?"
He glanced at the fork, and then at me, before smirking and feeding himself. Digging an elbow into his side, I swatted the fork away from his face, laughing at his irritated growl and hauling myself to my feet, "I'm going to bed."
"Keep it warm for me," he replied, shooting a smoldering glance over his shoulder. His laughter at the breathless state he sent me into followed me as I trudged through the darkness and toward our tent.
Rustling outside of the tent stirred me from my contented slumber. Currently sandwiched between Daryl at my back and Jake curled into my front, I found myself reluctant to crawl out into the cool evening air.
Still, it could have been anything and anything could be a walker.
Hauling myself to my feet, I retrieved my crossbow, drawing it up to my cheek and creeping out into the darkness. A quick survey of the field revealed nothing dead, but someone was creeping around, a dangerous thing in itself.
She didn't respond, though she certainly heard me. Her brunette hair whipped around as she powered back toward her tent, intent on making it there before me.
Ha, good thing I was closer.
"Lori, what the hell?" I hissed, slinging my crossbow over my shoulder and folding my arms across my chest. Glowering, I stared up at her, waiting for her response.
She refused to look at me, though, her shoulders trembling, her hair covering her face. Something… terrible happened.
"I'm tired, Cat," she spat, though the venom fell a little short, her voice trembling, "I'm goin' to bed…"
"What's wrong?" I inquired curiously, disconcertedly, "what were you doing out here? It's dangerous; there could be-"
Sorry it's a little shorter than usual, but I hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you think; I'd love to hear from you all again!
FanFicGirl10: I'm hoping so too! Aw thanks; I love writing them together! Oh yeah, I can't stand her. As you can probably tell haha
Dalonega Noquisi: Thanks! I'm so glad you liked it :D
HChrisH: Haha sorry it took so long to get back! I didn't mean for it to be so long.
Sexy Daryl Luva: I've toyed with the idea! Maybe they will; I plan on going a little off-script in a bit hehehe
Lady Shagging Godiva: It's possible… we'll see in the next chapter, which is my favorite episode, by the way ;D Lol, I'm glad you liked it enough to reread it too haha!
NoirChick: Thanks for all of the reviews! I certainly appreciate it! I hope you like this one, as well!
Bwah: haha idk, he's amazing, though! Hmm, well, for Kit, I would probably say Natalie Portman or a shorter Anne Hathaway haha. Tory, I was thinking Jennifer Lawrence, Danny would maybe be Andrew Garfield, Mike and Jake, well, I'm not sure… I'm not overly familiar with younger actors haha.
xXx Tinkies xXx: We shall see, in the next episode perhaps ;) Sorry it took so long to update though!
JTellersOldLady: thank ya!
Leyshla Gisel: Why thank you Murphette! I hope you enjoyed this one; sorry it's taken so long to get it up. I just busted it out today; I couldn't help myself!
MrsGooglyBear: Thanks! Yes, yes I did and it was amazing! He's so adorable!
Cocoa85715: The cliffhangers are the worst so I apologize for mine! But I'm glad it's on right now hehe.
Hmm: I agree! I love him!
Mariana Lestrange: Why thank you! I certainly appreciate it!
JararSucks: omg thank you! Haha, I'm glad you're liking it so much. I truly appreciate that!
Lily Rose Flower: Here ya go!
Amethiste: Thank you! Hope you enjoy it!
DeDeDe: That would be amazing! Baby Daryl gahhhhh! Haha maybe Merle would become a softie hahaa!
SimplyCurious: I always sort of pictured her like me so short, pale (not anymore cuz of being out in the sun haha), short, wavy chestnut hair, matching eyes. If she was portrayed by an actress, though, probably Natalie Portman with short hair.
Please No: Well, I've been thinking about it. I probably won't, but who knows! Eek!
Colgate Cavity Protection: I'm leaning toward your choice hehe
SabakuNoGaara426: Yes! Isn't it awesome!? And thank you! Glad you're liking it!
YO Misma Me Gusto: Thanks! Haha I love long chapters myself, so I'm glad you're enjoying them!
Ravenclaw Slytherin: Thanks!
x XRoweenaJAugustineX x: Lol, he's back!
Blue Rose 22: Why thank you! Haha I love him too!
Puri-Poke: Oh wow! Thank you so much :D I'm so glad you like Kit; I try to make her an acceptable OC. Ooh, that sounds like a good fic! I want to keep her alive, so we'll see!