A/N: Yeah, I'm lame. No updates for months. I'm ridiculous really. But, good news is, I may be getting a new job that will give me ample time to write! So I promise I'll update more quickly! I hope everyone's still out there, ready to read =) I'm actually writing the next chapter as we speak. This one was just getting way too long to keep as one chapter, so I had to break it up lol

A/N 2: I know, this is cheesy, but I'm gonna promote my books anyway. I have ebooks available to buy on Amazon! Pretty cheap and good stories. Romance, supernatural, fantasy stuff. I promise they're good reads ;) So please check them out; the names are on my profile, so please take a minute to look.

Disclaimer: I don't own the Walking Dead, but I miss it terribly. I can't wait 'til the next season!

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Paranoia and Delusions

"I'm pregnant."

Oh shit.

I couldn't get Lori's admission out of my head. She was pregnant.

Pregnant.

At any other time, it would have been a blessing (for me, anyway; wasn't sure on her thoughts, especially when I knew full well that it could have been Shane's baby for as often as they went at it), but now? In this apocalyptic world?

Where walkers were attracted to blood, to the slightest sound? A baby would be…

I shuddered to think of the dangers Lori was putting herself in. What she was putting all of us in. Sure, we could protect ourselves, but a pregnant woman? An infant?

Shit.

I hadn't gotten a wink of sleep after she spilled the beans, and I doubted she had either. I returned to my tent in a sort of daze, eyes wide, mouth agape. When I curled up in Daryl's arms once more, I lay, staring at the tent, my mind racing at the daunting challenge at Lori's feet.

Dawn approached before I realized it, the sky growing lighter and lighter, shifting from a dark to a pale blue, then pink, then orange, then yellow. Before I knew it, the sun was up.

And so was my hunter.

He had gotten a good night's sleep, inhaling deeply against my neck and tickling the skin there with his exhale. A tremor ran through me and the slightest of smirks crept across his face, the corner of his mouth twitching upward against the nape of my neck.

His hand strayed, trailing up along my leg, his warm fingers drifting beneath my shirt, "Mornin', Kit."

I hummed in response, my lids growing heavy as his ministrations eased me into a far more relaxed state than I had been all night. He pressed a few warm, lingering kisses to my shoulder, my jaw, the sensitive skin behind my ear.

He could have continued; I wouldn't have stopped him. But there was too much to get done today – namely finally finding Sophia – and he couldn't dawdle.

But, God, did I wish he would.

Lori's admission echoed in my mind, though, and I quickly rolled away from his grasp, a hand to my jaw as I viciously scrubbed away the feeling of his soft lips, his prickly stubble. He sat himself up slowly beside me, eyes never leaving my suddenly agitated form as he attempted to assess why in God's name I had shunned him so abruptly.

He knew I loved when he kissed me, when he woke me like that.

Was it because Jake was there? Maybe, but I wouldn't have been so cold. I would have run a hand through his hair, my voice no more than a whisper as I asked him not to. Not until later, when Jake had opted to spend the night in Danny's tent. He would agree and I would offer him a shy smile, complete with an apologetic kiss.

So why was I trying to rid myself of the feeling I enjoyed so much?

I didn't tell him. How could I? 'I don't want to have sex with you, Daryl, cuz I could get pregnant. I don't want to be pregnant in the apocalypse. I don't think I could survive…'

But what if I was already pregnant? We had had sex how many times before? Unprotected. Condoms hadn't been one of my top priorities when I was scavenging; I had warned Danny and Tory and Riley not to even think about sex. It was dangerous in this world; there were too many problems, too many threats.

And then I go off with Daryl and sleep with the guy how many times? Never once bothering to think of the consequences?

When was my last period?! I panicked, eyes flitting about the tent wildly, as though the canvas walls were a calendar and I could count the days off, when was it? It was… three weeks ago? I don't know; I don't remember. I don't even know what day it is… Maybe it's been a month? Two months? I don't know, I don't know, I don't-

Standing abruptly, I hastened from the tent without a word, inhaling heavily when I hit the open air. I kept an ear on the occupants behind me, wondering if Daryl would call after me, but he didn't. He wouldn't.

Of course he cared, but my cold shoulder had thrown him for a loop. He would be pissed, I knew, especially if I were unwilling to tell him (and I couldn't exactly tell him without throwing Lori under the bus or worrying the hell out of him).

Raking a hand through my hair, I moved quickly through camp, now unconcerned by the sight of Shane lingering outside of the Grimes' tent. I had more important things to worry about than Lori's creepy stalker.

Making my way to the RV, I glanced haphazardly at T-Dog as he sat atop the vehicle. He sent me a short wave, receiving little more than a frazzled grin in response, but didn't bother questioning me. He knew me well enough by now to know when I was on a mission.

Climbing into the stifling vehicle, I searched wildly for that silly little calendar Dale kept pinned above the sink. My eyes caught sight of it immediately, my feet hastening toward the yellowing paper before I knew it.

He had been meticulous about keeping track of the days, Dale had. He crossed out each one that passed us by, each one we had survived, with a dying black Sharpie. It would run out soon, but for now it did the trick. I followed the stark X's until I found today's date. Or yesterday's.

"Dale," I called out, peering over my shoulder as I waited for the old man's arrival. He didn't keep me waiting for long, appearing out of the bedroom with hasty steps, his dark brows pinched low over his eyes.

"Cat?" he inquired, his bird-like gaze sweeping over my fidgeting form, "what's wrong? Are you alright?"

"Fine," I replied distractedly, fighting the blush that worked its way to my face. I was always an open book when it came to my face; if he knew I was embarrassed, he would push the issue, I could guarantee it.

As helpful as Dale was, he was rather nosy.

"Is this today or yesterday?"

My finger rested against the first unmarred box on the calendar, drawing an imaginary X on it as I awaited his response. He peered at it, running a hand through his beard before nodding to himself, "That's today. I marked off yesterday already. Why?"

I ignored him, though, eyes narrowing as my mind worked double time to calculate the days. It didn't work, though; it had been too long since I needed to keep track of the time. Biting the tip of my tongue, I queried, forcing my tone to be as blasé as possible, "When did we leave camp? How long has it been?"

Dale studied the calendar for a moment, pointing out a tiny sad face in the corner of a Monday three weeks prior, "Then. Three weeks from yesterday. Why? Are you alright, Cat? You seem a little anxious. Is everything alright with you and Daryl?"

Sighing softly, relieved, I shook my head, grateful that my period hadn't come late. I still had time. I wasn't pregnant. I wasn't sentenced to death, not like-

"We're fine," I swallowed thickly, suddenly sorry for the sheriff's wife. She hadn't asked for this to happen. I had seen the sorrow on her face the night before; the haunted look in her eyes. She knew what would happen if she brought a baby into the world. Without modern medicine, without the safety, the cleanliness of a hospital, without a trained hand to help get that baby out…

"He looks a little irritated."

At Dale's suspicious words, I peered through the small window, catching sight of my hunter immediately. The set of his jaw, the tightness in his shoulders, the murderous glint in those baby blues of his…

"Nah, Dale, he's not irritated," I replied with a disgruntled sigh, "he's pissed."

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With one weight lifted from my shoulders, another immediately settled. Daryl hadn't spoken two words to me since my panicked dismissal of him in the tent. He ignored my glances, seethed when I said his name… he even went so far as to buddy up with Danny and Riley when he saw me coming.

Bastard, I grumbled, rolling my eyes skyward as he fell into step with Rick and Shane, a map in the sheriff's hands. Though I couldn't really blame him, I still wanted to hit him upside the head. He was too short-tempered for his own good, quick to judge and equally quick to throw his defenses up.

If he even gave me the chance to explain, the likelihood of him accepting my apology was bordering on slim to none.

Even still, I approached the trio, sticking closer to Rick than the others for obvious reasons. It only caused Daryl's glower to deepen, though, and he turned his attention away from me. Instead, he watched with those silent, observant eyes of his as T-Dog, Andrea, Danny, and Jimmy approached.

"So what's the plan?"

Rick pursed his lips, unrolling the map atop the hood of one of the cars, smoothing it out with a hand and hunkering over the aged paper. I stepped forward, eyes flitting across the marked map. It was clear that he had done his best to note where we had already searched and where exactly we would need to go next.

A smile stretched across my face, a hand to Rick's shoulder; he was just as determined to find the little girl as Daryl and I.

He offered me a sidelong grin, his lips tipping quickly into a frown when Daryl let out an unnecessarily vicious growl, "Where th' hell do you think you're goin'?"

Momentarily perplexed, I realized he hadn't been talking to the sheriff, but Jimmy. The teen cowed beneath Daryl's monstrous glower, eyeing the hunter's bulging muscles apprehensively (the complete opposite of my appreciative one), but schooled the tremor in his voice as best he could, "I talked to Hershel. He said it was fine if I go. I know the area, so, ya know-"

"Hershel didn't say anything to me…"

Rick's comment drew a number of stares and the young boy rubbed his jaw in awkward silence, his eyes darting along the ground as he sought out an excuse.

"You ever fought walkers before?" T-Dog inquired, fisting his hands on his wide hips, his brows pinched upward in disbelief as he regarded the slim wisp of a boy.

Honestly, you couldn't judge a killer by their size. I shook my head, feeling mildly sorry for the boy, Do I look like I can take down a walker?

I didn't, but I couldn't help him. I wouldn't come to his defense; if he hadn't fought walkers, we didn't have the time to protect him. If I were looking for Sophia and something happened to him…

So I zipped my lip when the others quickly shut down his involvement, offering him only a pitying smile when his wide eyes sought mine for help.

"Saw some horses earlier," Daryl commented suddenly, "I'm gonna take one up on this ridge," he gestured toward the spot on the map. The area was close to where we had found the abandoned house, where we had found traces of Sophia. "Could see her better from up there."

"We don't have permission for that," Rick replied with a shake of his head, scratching his jaw and wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, "we can't act like we own the place. We're here on borrowed time; we do anything Hershel doesn't approve of – includin' takin' Jimmy with us – an' he's likely to kick us off his property."

"It'll make things easier, though," I frowned, "you'd think he wouldn't mind. I could ask-"

Daryl muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, 'don't need any o' your help,' but I didn't bother to correct him. Andrea and I simply shared an unimpressed eye roll (men and their resistance to asking for help, I swear), but I patted Rick's shoulder once more and muttered, "I'm gonna ask…"

Before I strayed too far, though, I rounded on Daryl, jerking a threatening finger in his direction, "Don't even think about leaving without me."

His lip curling and his eyes narrowing, he seethed beneath the hot Georgia sun, retorting irritably, "Don't tempt me, woman."

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Hershel wasn't hard to find, though I wasn't quite sure how to broach the subject of nabbing a few of his horses (I hadn't been kidding when I told Daryl not to leave me; I would hunt him down if he slipped away without my notice). I hadn't even been properly introduced to the man and, here I was, prepared to abscond with a couple of his few remaining farm animals.

He was around my grandfather's age, probably seventy-three, seventy-four if I had to guess. He had deep-set eyes and a kindly smile, extending his hand as I called his name in a questioning manner. Enveloping mine with both of his, he grinned down at me, dark eyes twinkling in the light filtering through the kitchen window, "Rick explained to me who you were. It's nice to meet you, Cat. Is there anything I can do for you?"

His voice was kind, deep and smooth like molasses. Immediately, I took a liking to him and smiled despite my sheepishness, "Well, I wanted to ask you something."

"And what might that be?"

"Daryl and I are going to go looking for Sophia again," I explained, "Carol's daughter. The little girl that went missing."

He nodded, a frown tugging at his wrinkled mouth as he dipped his head and sighed, "I heard about that. Horrible thing to have happened."

"I know. And we've been looking everywhere for her. We wanted to check out the ridge, though, and it's gonna be hard to get there without a ride… Daryl said you have some horses…"

"I'd love to help you, Cat, but I can't afford to let you take those horses from this farm," he replied with an apologetic sigh. When I went to plead my case, he lifted a hand, silencing me before I could say a word. "I know it would help you, but they're too valuable. I need those horses. If we can't use 'em for work, we can still use 'em for food."

"We don't expect to lose them, Hershel."

"No one ever does," he stated, offering me a rather poignant frown, tipping his head, "but you can't assume anything out there. If you get separated from those horses, if they get eaten by those things…"

"We won't let anything happen," I assured him wholeheartedly, eyes wide, pleading; I had a good puppy-dog look, right? I could convince him, right? I'd been known to worm my way out of sticky situations with that look. "If we do, we'll repay you somehow."

"How can you repay me for two strong work horses?"

"I'll do the plowing myself, if I have to," I replied hastily, causing a chuckle to escape the old veterinarian despite himself, "but we won't lose them. Please, Hershel; we just wanna find that little girl."

A moment or so passed before he finally answered, tugging on his belt loops as he released a heavy sigh, "I suppose I'll let ya take them. Today only; I won't risk 'em more than once. You understand? You have 'til dusk to bring them back. If you don't find the girl today, you'll have to go on foot."

"I understand," I grinned, flinging my arms around him before I could help myself. He laughed, patting my back and accepting my thank-you's humbly.

He held me out at arm's length, shaking his head and musing with a warm smile, "You remind me of my daughters, Cat. Be careful out there, alright? It's a dangerous world out there."

Understatement of the century.

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Daryl was already hitching a horse when I approached the solitary hunter in the field. Where he had gotten the supplies, I could only imagine, but I didn't bother questioning him, instead announcing my presence (which I was certain he was already aware of), "You're not stealing that, are you?"

"Borrowin'," he replied tersely, adjusting the saddle strap beneath the chestnut beast's belly. He didn't bother sparing me a glance, his tone gruff, unfriendly, his broad shoulders tensed in agitation.

"Stealing," I supplied, "doesn't matter, though. He said we could take two of 'em. We have 'em 'til dusk. After that, it's all on foot."

"I'm gonna find her today, so it don't matter."

"Must you be so goddamn hostile?" I inquired conversationally, smirking to myself when he rounded on me, his gaze hostile, burning, his knuckles white as he clenched his fists to keep from lashing out. "I was a bitch this morning, I get it. I know. I, er, something hit me outta the blue this morning and I was freaking out, so-"

"No, really?" he interrupted with a growl, lip curling and nostrils flaring as he pinned me with a dangerous scowl, "why don't you go tell Dale what's the matter? Or Rick? Hell, maybe you should just talk ta that damn farmer; cry on his shoulder. Sure as hell ain't doin' that with me…"

But you want me to…

It was there, on the tip of my tongue.

Jealousy doesn't become you. But it fits you.

Daryl Dixon envied the fact that (apparently) I went to other men and told them of my problems before him.

"Yeah, well, I don't wanna tell any of them what's the matter," I replied, lips pursed in agitation, scanning the field for my own steed, "nothing's the matter anymore. Trust me. It was just me being paranoid. I didn't talk to Dale, for the record. Just had to look at something in the RV."

"You're bein' too damn vague, Kit," he ground from between clenched teeth, letting out a loud, sharp whistle toward the empty field before returning his attention to me, "somethin' was wrong. What was it?"

I wanted to deflect, to change the subject, but stoking Daryl's ire wasn't something I was altogether interested in doing. Chewing on the tip of my tongue, I eventually – reluctantly – stated, "I was just checking the days. I wanted to know-," when Jake's birthday was? Nah, too suspicious… he's gonna know…, "when my last period was, alright? I-I thought I might be late, but I'm not. Should be in a few days. So no worries."

If he wouldn't have flipped his shit, I could have laughed at the ridiculously uncomfortable grimace on the younger Dixon's face. He wasn't blushing, but his spine stiffened until it was ramrod straight, a flurry of emotions, of expressions flitting across his grimacing face.

Obviously he hadn't expected anything like that.

He scratched at the nape of his neck, his chin, his head, attempting to come up with something – anything – but the words weren't coming. Despite the annoyance he had caused me with his bullheaded behavior, I took pity on the hunter and stepped forward. He shied away from me only momentarily, like a cornered cat, but I cupped my hand around the nape of his neck and drew him toward me.

Molding my lips to his, I tugged lightly at his bearded chin and queried softly, "You gonna let me come?"

His eyes darkened with lust, as I'd hoped they would, and I knew all was forgiven.

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"Fuck!"

"Daryl! Daryl! Oh God…"

My descent down the hill was a lot less violent than my hunter's, but the risk of sliding, of pitching forward and rolling head over ass down to the valley below was high. Even still, I moved as hastily as I could, reaching out and catching hold of a tree when my feet threatened to give out beneath me.

Water splashed up as I ran, soaking into my clothes, but I couldn't pay it any mind. My heart pounded wildly, painfully, against my chest, nausea running through me as I raced toward Daryl's side.

He was groaning, pushing himself from the riverbed, a hand to his side and a wounded grimace on his face. He turned away from me, hoping to hide his injury from sight, brows pulled low over his eyes as he yelled angrily, "Stay over there, Kit! Don't-agh!"

If anything, my footsteps quickened, my legs now carrying me full-tilt toward the bloodied man. Bile rose to my throat as I watched the crimson pool in the crystalline water at his feet; how badly had he been hurt?

"What happened?!"

He swatted at me, turning away in an attempt to shield his wound from sight, but I hit him hard in the shoulder and maneuvered myself around him. There, sticking from his side, was one of his bolts.

"Shit."

Swallowing thickly, I stretched a trembling hand toward the shaft, retracting my fingers at the last minute as he flinched and swore under his breath. His jaw clenched, a hard glint to his eyes as he stared silently down at the wound, "I need to get it out."

"No," I caught his hand, tearing at the hem of my shirt, "not until we get back. Let Hershel take it out… If you do it now…"

"I'd bleed out," he agreed, another curse slipping from me as he allowed me to wrap his torso with the cloth, attempting to position it around the arrow. When I couldn't manage it – my hands hadn't stilled and I didn't want to jar the bolt and injure him further – he brushed his fingers against mine and finished it himself. He frowned, grimacing silently, before peering up at the thirty foot incline we'd fallen from. "Gotta get ourselves back up that hill."

"No way out of here?"

"Nah," he grunted, peering around the riverbed, his sharp eyes scanning the mud for any child-sized tracks, "this ridge goes on for miles. No way we'd get back by nightfall. 'Specially without those horses."

"Looks like I'm pulling Hershel's plows now," I frowned, catching the side of his face and pressing a hand to his temple. He hissed and jerked his head away, eying the crimson on my hand with distaste, but allowed me to brush some of the blood that had trickled from the wound on his forehead from his face. "Bet that hurts like a bitch."

"Horses'll find their way back," the hunter replied instead, unconcerned by the wound, unconcerned for himself. If there were any sign of Sophia, the wounds would be worth it; though he wouldn't say it aloud, I knew he felt it.

Nodding silently, I ran my knuckles along my lower lip and scoured the surrounding forest for any sign of the little girl, "Think she could be down here?"

Daryl lifted a shoulder, distracted by a few prints beside a fallen log, before musing belatedly, "Could be. Just don't know. These, though…"

I jogged to his side, hands on my knees as I leaned closer to the tracks. There were some, small enough to be a child's, but not conclusive enough for either of us. Hell, I had small feet; could've been anyone.

"SOPHIA!"

His voice rang through the trees, echoing before falling silent. Birds were the only creatures to return our call, their chirps and tweets bright, cheery, oblivious to our concern. Not a single, solitary movement caught my eye as I swept my gaze quickly over every inch of the forest that I could. If only I could see a flash of blue, a mop of dirty blonde hair…

But there was nothing.

Daryl wasn't one to succumb to his injuries outwardly, but I could hear the hitch in his breath the longer we waited. He needed medical attention – and quick.

Sophia would have to wait.

I was torn, but I knew that, if I could get him back to camp quickly, there was a chance maybe Rick and I could resume the hunt in this neck of the woods. Patting Daryl's stomach, I gestured toward the hill and sighed, "Let's go."

He nodded, a reluctant frown tugging at his pink lips, a hand on the small of my back as we made our way to the incline. He scoffed when I swept my arm forward, ignoring my offer to let him go first.

"You kiddin'?" he queried with a disbelieving laugh, "I fall an' I'll take you down with me."

"But if I go first, I can't grab you…"

"Just go, Kit," he replied, shaking his head and giving me a boost when my feet refused to cooperate, "I'll be right b'hind you."

So we began to climb. It was difficult for me; I could only imagine how much Daryl was struggling to pull his wounded self up along the steep, slanted hill.

Latching on to whatever I could, I found myself casting near continuous glances over my shoulder, reassuring myself that he was actually there. That he hadn't fallen when I wasn't looking.

"Keep that up an' you'll lose your grip, woman," he grumbled, a hand straying up to swat my ass, to spur me on.

"Keep that up an' I'll kick you back down, Daryl."

He released a huffing laugh but didn't slap me again. I was almost to the top when a soft, hoarse voice called, "Cat?!"

So startled was I that I nearly lost my grip. Daryl wasn't so lucky.

His name tore from my lips in a scream, my eyes wild as I stared over my shoulder as the hunter tumbled back down the hill. He hit more than one tree as he fell, a cry escaping him as the arrow penetrated deeper into his side.

"Shit!"

"Cat!"

The source of the voice was one that had a bubble of hysterical laughter bursting from my lips despite Daryl's fall. Turning my head skyward, I saw a small, round face surrounded by a curtain of dirty blonde hair. Bright eyes stared down at me, tears pouring from them and splattering across my face.

"Sophia?"

Her name escaped me in a breathless gasp, confusion and incredulity coating my tone. She half-laughed, half-sobbed, reaching for me from the edge of the cliff.

"No, no, no; stay there," I breathed, waving a hand to stop her, to shoo her from the dangerous slope, "just… don't move."

"What if there are walkers?" she inquired woefully, rubbing the tears from her eyes and smearing the dirt across her cheeks. She wanted to reach for me again, I knew, but did as I told her and scooted away from the edge.

Reaching for my waist, I grabbed my pistol and winged it at her. She ducked in time, scrambling for it as I ground out, "Shoot it."

Without another word, I ignored her pleas to stop, to keep me from leaving her side, and descended once more. My focus was now torn between the girl I still had trouble believing we'd found and the man lying motionless in the river.

"Daryl," I muttered, anxiety ripping through me as a walker stumbled into view, making his way for the bloodied heap of a man on the shore. My heart lodged itself in my throat as I released the thick root I clung to; too breathless to scream, I tumbled the final twenty feet, bashing my head against the ground with a sickening thud.

Stars exploded before my eyes, my head spinning as I struggled to get to my feet. I tripped several times, opting instead to half-run, half-crawl toward Daryl. The walker was just about on him, its decaying arms outstretched, fingers curled to dig into my lover's flesh.

Curses flew from my lips as I stumbled toward him, dipping a hand into the water and scouring the riverbed for any sign of a weapon. A rock was the only thing I could find; I didn't bother examining it as the walker descended on Daryl.

I thought he'd been bitten, been sure of it, when he stirred, shoving the walker away from him weakly. He grabbed a massive stick, winging it at the bloodied monster with all his might and bashing its head in.

The walker fell even as I grabbed the body, dragging it away from my hunter. He yelled out, a finger jerking behind me; spinning on a heel, I raised the rock, two hands necessary to properly lift the thing, and brought it down over another walker's head.

The blood and gore from its skull coated me, splattered across my face, my mouth. I groaned, wiping it away with a sleeve, and rounded on Daryl. The hunter paid me no mind, aiming his bow and – a bolt? – at something up on the ridge.

I almost screamed at him, arms waving wildly as I imagined him taking aim at Sophia; I needn't have bothered, though, as the hunter let loose the only remaining bolt. The arrow lodged itself deeply, squarely in the skull of a walker stumbling toward a trembling Sophia.

He collapsed then, dropping to one knee as the crossbow clattered from his grasp. He cupped a hand around the wound in his side, now devoid of the bolt he'd accidentally imbedded into himself.

Gaping, I hastened forward, pressing my hand over his and reeling, "You- Daryl, did you…"

"All I had left," he replied grimly, swaying slightly at the pain I knew must have been overwhelming. He looked awful, covered in blood and gore from the walker he'd brained, not to mention his own wounds, but I couldn't have been more relieved. Throwing my arms around him, I attempted to be gentle, failing miserably when I squeezed him to my chest.

"Thank God," I kissed his forehead, his cheek, his jaw, tugging him toward the hill, "she's alright, Daryl. She's alive."

He was about as stunned as I, even though he had already saved her life in the five minutes she had returned, staring at the blonde child as she clung to a tree trunk. Her eyes never left his, her whimper audible even from the riverbed.

"You alright?" he called, leaning rather heavily on me as we worked our way up the base of the cliff.

She could only nod, a nervous giggle escaping her as she glanced hastily around her, "Could you hurry? I don't see anymore, but-"

"We're coming, Soph," I smiled, crawling with renewed vigor up the hill, throwing over my shoulder teasingly, "you think you're falling, you grab onto me, okay?"

Daryl flipped me off, unconcerned that a child had seen the offensive action, his moves slow, jerky, tedious. But he was damn determined to make it up that hill. To grab that girl and drag her back to her mother.

I reached the top first, gathering Sophia in my arms and hugging her just as tightly as I had my hunter. Tears welled in my eyes, dripping steadily into her dirty hair, as I cried, "You're real. You're here! You found us!"

She couldn't speak, too overwhelmed by the safety Daryl and I provided, clinging to me like a baby sloth. I tried to dislodge her if only to help my hunter up the cliff, but she refused to let up. Running my fingers through her hair, I kissed her forehead and smiled weakly, "You need to let go. I have to help Daryl."

She glanced at the struggling hunter, red-faced and runny-nosed, but did as I asked and released her grasp. She kept a hand on my back, though, as though removing her touch from me completely would make the pair of us disappear.

"Yeah, you better run!"

The threat caught me off guard, but I knelt at the cliff's edge and caught Daryl's hand as he hauled himself toward the top. With more than a little effort (he was a heavy sunnuvabitch) on my part, I helped him up, allowing him to collapse on top of me without much complaint.

He panted heavily, sweat coating his brow, lying motionlessly atop me for a moment or two as he attempted to regain his breath.

"Daryl?"

His head snapped up at Sophia's timid call, his blue eyes wide, bright, as he regarded the child we'd worked so hard to find. He hauled himself off of me with a hiss, catching her with one arm and dragging him into his chest.

Falling back against the dirt, I let out a joyous, tearful laugh.

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It was a long trek back to the farm, but with Sophia in our company, there was more than a little spring in my step. She chattered almost nonstop, her voice hoarse but excited as she questioned us on the rest of our group.

I answered her questions as best I could, keeping an eye on Daryl as he limped heavily beside me. He had declined my offer to let him lean on me, his eyes flitting to Sophia more often than not.

He couldn't believe it.

Neither could I, in all honesty. I was certain that she would disappear in a puff of smoke, a figment of my imagination, spurred on by the intense desire to find her. I kept a hand on her shoulder, partially to force her to keep up the pace and partially to reassure myself that she was alive and well.

"Is there food on the farm? How's Carl? I hope he's alright. Is Jake there?"

"Yep," I laughed, "he's alright. He's healing. Jake's there, too. Everyone's there."

We emerged in a clearing, the same field where we had found the horses. The crickets and cicadas sang, not a single grunt or groan from an approaching walker drawing my attention. I could see the beautiful white farmhouse and the barn, a figure I couldn't quite decipher standing atop the RV.

Daryl stalked forward at my side, our steps slow and measured. I reached for him when he stumbled, but even that movement was sluggish. There was no doubt in my mind that, after stuffing some food in my mouth, I'd hit the sack and be out like a light in minutes.

Suddenly, there was a shout from the farm, distracting me from my hunter. Four men ran at us, distinguishable even from the distance between us. Rick, Shane, Glenn, and T-Dog raced forward, brandishing weapons and screaming obscenities.

Rick was the first to realize who we were, though he didn't drop his gun in confusion.

Daryl glowered, panting and spitting, "This is the third time you pointed a gun at my head. You gonna pull the trigger or what?"

Rick immediately lowered the gun, the others following en suite. Rick gaped at us, Shane making a shitty-ass comment on our appearance, before the sheriff dropped to his knees and gathered Sophia in his arms.

Before I could blink, Daryl's flew backwards, the impact of the bullet hitting his head throwing him to the ground.

All I could do was scream.

WALKINGDEADWALKINGDEADWALKINGDEAD

So, thank you all for reading. Please review; I don't know if anyone is still out there reading this! Let me know what you think, what you feel… Tell me what you thought of this season of TWD!

Leyshla Gisel: Haha yes I did! I missed them too =(

Dalonega Noquisi: Haha thank you! I missed it, too! I always think about it! Yes, I have some awesome ideas for some conflict between Carol and Kit, mwahahahaha. Haha thanks; Daryl is super perceptive so I figured he would realize what she was upset about.

Locolito0me: Thanks! Sorry it took so long for me to update again =/

Cellardoor0789: Thanks so much! I really appreciate it

Zelda Zonkk: haha aww thank you! Yeah, I definitely did get bogged down. And bogged down again! Haha Shane can get incredibly creepy, especially later on. Aww thank you! Daryl is sometimes hard to write, so I'm glad I managed to do it. Yes! I'm glad you like Kit; I love writing her. Your compliments are making me blush teehee

xXx Tinkies xXx: Haha thank you! I couldn't not let them find her! I thought about it, but I knew I had to stray off-script. Sorry I didn't update right away. But I promise I'm working on the next chapter as we speak lol!

FanFicGirl10: Haha she definitely needs to go. I can't stand her.

No control16: Thank you! =) Yeah, I had to get Daryl to stay away from Carol; I'm not a Caryl shipper. Or a Bethyl one for that matter lol

MaddyMarie1212: hahahaha she certainly is an annoying bitch! She never wanted to help find Sophia and I can't stand that.

Mariana Lestrange: No problem!

Jeanf: thank you! I'm glad you think so! Yeah, he would definitely be the jealous type haha

RayeRobins: I wish I did, too! Life keeps getting in the way, but I'll be trying to update more often.

MrsKasparVarn: Why thank you! Glad you're liking it!

Deedle2226: Aww haha thank ya!

Guest777: Thanks lol