A coyote yowled and whined a hair rising distance away.
"Shit, man." One of their hunters said an even more blood chilling distance away.
A flashlight came on, bouncing around across the road. On the bright side, despite the better chance of them getting spotted, they had a better idea on where these guys were now. Maybe they could avoid them.
"Have you had that this entire time?" the other guy asked. His voice sounded farther away and was kind of raspy sounding.
"Why didn't you turn on before now?"
"Saving the batteries."
"Saving the batteries for what other occasion, shithead."
"Why don't you turn your flashlight on?"
The other guy mumbled something that they couldn't hear but it really didn't matter to them.
"What's that? You don't have one. Whose the shithead now?"
Carl and Sophia continued to listen, watch, and pray they would not be found as they hid in the darkness and the slope of a ditch. The flashlight beam showed them blips of their surroundings once unseen.
It was like a sign from above that they were going to be all right.
A blast from the flashlight showed them that neither Carl nor Sophia had seen due to the darkness. The road that they had been following curved and transformed itself into a low-lying bridge. In the side of it there was a storm culvert, similar to the one that they had hid from dogs in.
Carl and Sophia slowly backed down the ditch to the bottom and crawled along on their bellies. The grass was damp and cold, and it left patches of wetness on their clothes.
A small creek snaked underneath. Sophia got up to her hands and knees. She took a step closer to the square tunnel and slipped underneath the surface of the water with a loud splash. She remerged standing up a split second later, coughing and wiping her eyes.
"Shit, that's cold," she whined.
"Get out before you catch your death," Carl extended a hand and waved it. "Maybe there is a way to get in there without swimming."
Sophia looked at the dark entrance. It was just an empty hole, where they could hide and be safe. Just like before. And then they would find Daryl.
"I can see if there is. I'm already wet." She waded through the water, stumbling over something at the bottom of the creek.
"Wait," Carl interrupted her summoning of courage before heading into the unknown.
He passed her the road flare that had been rolling around in the backpack.
"If there is a walker, I'll need to see it to shoot it," explained Carl.
"How do I make it light?" asked Sophia
"I think you just pop the cap off."
She gave a test twist. The white cap was on tight, like pop bottle cap stiff, but hopefully if there was a walker in the tunnel, adrenaline would make short work of the stiffness.
The tunnel was ninety-nine percent total darkness, it was tempting to pop the flare. She felt up the side to see if there would be any ledge for Carl to sit on so he wouldn't have to get as wet as she did. Her hand felt nothing but a scratchy straight wall and the depth became deeper and she was up to shoulders for one brief moment. It was startling but she didn't scream.
Carl waited on the edge of the bank. He took advantage of the stop to dig the gun out of the backpack. He probably should've had it out before. Thankfully they had been very lucky until now.
A light shone down on him exactly like a prison spotlight. He shielded his eyes with his hand and looked up. Carl couldn't see the guy holding it. So he kneeled over the gun to hide it from view.
"Hey there, kid," the raspy one said. The voice sounded like it was moving. "Where's your friend?"
Carl looked at the culvert, nothing more than a black hole, concealing Sophia. She was hidden. Safe.
"Back at camp, she wouldn't come with me." Carl lied to keep her that way.
The lie echoed through the tunnel. Pressing herself against the wall, Sophia thought about coming out. But couldn't bring herself to do it.
"That's not what we were told."
The flashlight lifted off of him and he set a record on hiding the gun in the waistband at the back of his pants. The two men came down to him.
"You sure she ain't with you," the guy shone the light right into the little tunnel. Sophia pressed herself against the wall and held her breath as if that would make her invisible. Her heart hammering in her chest felt like it could give her away.
"She went back to our tent trailer because she didn't like the other one," Carl lied some more.
"For fuck's sake, did no one check that trailer?"
Carl didn't know how to answer that or if the man was looking for one.
"Well then, it looks like our job here is done." The guy grabbed him by the back of the shirt and pulled him away.
Carl couldn't explain why he thought that these guys were bad news and it would be best if they never got a hold of Sophia. Maybe it was a contagious thought from Daryl.
Sophia walked through the tunnel. On the other side, she raced along the ditch. She had an idea.
She got to the car first. Lifting the handle with the minimum amount of strength, Sophia opened the door. The door unexpected flipped up instead of out to the side like a normal ass door.
Daryl would absolutely hate this car. Sophia could perfectly picture him cursing it out in combinations swear words she had never heard before.
Where the ever-loving hell did you run off to Daryl Dixon? And what crazy ass notion made you leave?
The flashlight lapped up the windshield. Sophia curled up on the floor, avoiding its eye. She pulled the keys from the ignition. No chance they could take Carl anywhere if they couldn't get the car started. She stayed on the floor for a second before she opened the door, keeping a hold on the handle to only allow it to raise up higher enough for her to roll out.
Sophia tiptoed in a crouch around the car. Caught between the flare and her palm, the key's teeth pressed into her skin but she held on to both items like her life depended on it. The men's voices were coming closer. Sophia squatted by the bumper, preparing to run as fast as she should to the far side of the ditch.
Then she'd figure out how to save Carl.
The flashlight hit her after two long steps. Her first reaction was like Carl's; to shield her eyes and try and see through the blinding light.
Carl was shocked to see her standing there. So were the two guys as they stopped walking and chatting.
How did she sneak over here? And why? Carl thought, as time seemed to be frozen.
"Hey!" The raspy one yelled at her. His voice broke the freeze frame.
"Run Sophia!" Carl grabbed the flashlight out of his captor's hand and threw it as far as he could. The ball of light bounced on the ground about three times before it came to stop a few feet away.
"You fucking little punk." The man hit Carl round the head so hard that he saw stars.
"C'mon," the other one said starting after Sophia, slowly fading in to the blackness.
"Leave her!" Carl pulled the gun out and pointed it at the men.
The dull silver barrel quivered in hand. His finger sat like a bird on branch on the trigger. One of the men took a step toward him. He kept the gun up and got it a little steadier.
I can do this.
Carl thought about how he had stood up to Regan, who was bigger than either of these two. But that was with the crossbow.
What if there were walkers around? A gunshot could get him, and especially Sophia off God knew where, into a huge world of hurt.
Carl looked at the two man outlines over the gun. When Daryl was knocked unconscious, everything happened faster. He had too much time to think right now.
What if he killed another human being? Could he kill someone? He didn't want to but he had to protect Sophia right now.
The dilemma weighed on him so much that he wasn't able to move when one man lunged at him, slamming Carl in to the ground. The gun was yanked out of Carl's hand. He tried to scamper away but the man grabbed the right shoulder strap.
Then he was lifted right off his feet. Carl squirmed, twisted, and kicked for all he was worth but it didn't do any good. The man held him tighter and carried him over to the car.
"Pop the trunk." He said gruffly. It was the one with the raspy voice.
"What?" the other asked
"I got the feelin' he ain't gonna cooperate. We gotta get that girl before she gets to far. Probably will only get half the supplies if we bring back one kid."
Carl didn't know what that meant exactly but he really didn't like it and he contorted himself as much as possible and sunk his teeth through the skin on his handler's cheek. The man all but screamed in pain and let go of Carl.
The success was short lived. Carl got hit several times when the Raspy got a hold of him. He felt his bottom lip split open when one hit jarred him so much that he bit it.
"That's enough, just get him in," the other split them up, keeping a hold on Carl.
"Gimme the keys."
"I don't have them, why would I take them?"
They bickered about the keys. Carl put the mystery of why Sophia was by the car, and the missing keys together. He felt so proud of Sophia. She underestimated herself; she really was brave.
He was basically dragged to the back of the car. The stolen keys didn't stop them from opening the trunk. When Carl saw it spring open he fought harder but he was greatly out muscled and eventually he was dropped into the trunk. He tried to jump out. The other guy hovering over him pushed him back while Raspy pushed down the hatch.
"Jesus, watch my fingers."
The hatch came down on him with loud click, shutting him into complete blackness.
Carl continuously kicked the walls of the trunk and threw all his weight in to what he figured was the backseat to maybe push it back and get out.
Out of breath, Carl stopped. He looked out at absolutely nothing. He heard nothing except his heaving breath, and felt his bleeding, pulsing lip and the sting of tears in the corner of his eyes.
Sophia made it into the bushes, a densely packed clump of assorted ficus. Even though she felt she pushed herself as far back as she could. She tripped and let go of the possessions she was holding on.
The car keys didn't go far. She found them by her feet while she was brushing the dirt off herself. She couldn't see the red of the flare around, she couldn't see much of anything actually. While the bushes hid her, it kept the moonlight from finding her eyes.
The flare was the only thing close to protection she had. She took few steps, intensely scanning the ground. The flare had rolled into a crevice under a log or something. Sophia's hand had a hard time getting to it.
It was even harder to keep her hand in the cold space, when she kept thinking about something grabbing it.
With one hard frustrated tug she freed ninety percent of it. The cap got left behind.
The flare erupted into a burst of white-hot light. It blinded her temporarily, then she had huge spots in her eyes when she blinked. Sophia could see her surrounding now.
A forest made entirely out of everything but trees and their eerie shadows. It stretched out east and west for as far as she could, though that wasn't far. Behind her was a wall of dirt and rock.
Sophia wondered if she would be able to climb to the top if she ran into trouble, it was pretty steep.
She held her breath. Waiting for something to be awoken and attack her. She was just about to breath when she heard a trickling of rocks sliding down.
Something came crashing through the bush.
"Caaarrrl!" Daryl yelled. "Sophia!"
"Shut up," hissed one of Regan's friends.
"Sophia!" Daryl didn't care. "Carl!"
If there were any walkers out and about, he didn't care if they heard him if there was a chance that the kids would hear him too. So they would know that he was looking for them. That he hadn't completely abandoned them.
The guy jumped on top of him. Daryl fought back, popping him in the jaw so hard a tremor was sent shooting down his arm to his elbow. It felt good to hit something, so he kept up the fight.
Regan broke it up.
"Earn your meals for once and stay on task," he pushed his friend back. Then he rounded on Daryl. "And you shut your hole or you'll end up getting your guts torn out by corpses before you get to those kids. Then what'll happen to them?"
He had already imagined what would happen to Carl and Sophia if he was too late but he hadn't thought about what would happen to them if they were stranded out in the wilderness.
Carl sat curled up in very sun faded red chair looking out the window at the gravel driveway. A hunting rifle that was double his arm's length propped up beside him.
Clunks and clangs of pots in the kitchen made the drafty farmhouse sound homey and he closed his eyes to try and imagine that he really was at home, also because he was quite tired.
Carl was fully asleep when Sophia came in with a half empty bowl of extremely diluted chicken soup that they had been stretching out over the last few days. It was their last can.
They were going to go to the next closest house, a daunting football field across from their house. But Sophia got the feeling that that wasn't going to happen.
She shook him awake. Carl looked at her through rheumy eyes. He ate a few spoonfuls of the watery meal than went back to sleep. It was the only time he didn't cough.
Carl had caught a bug. That's all it was. Sophia had reassured herself numerous times.
He'd bounce back in a couple of days.
Not a moment too soon though as the next time Sophia woke him up, his skin was very warm and clammy. He looked dazed too. That couldn't be a good sign.
"You need some rest, c'mon."
Sophia helped Carl to the bedroom in the back and tucked him into the bed. She knew she should be watching the road but she found herself invisible tied to Carl's side. What if he needed her?
The next day she ran over to the other house with a pillowcase. She filled it with several packets of noodles, some more soup and a can of an Alphagetti. Sophia held it in her hand longer than any other can, remembering the time her and Daryl spelled out their names.
She got mad and threw it across the room. Not having the luxury of time to waste or food, she retrieved the Alphagetti and rushed back to their house. Crying the whole way back.
Sophia went back to Carl who hadn't gotten out of bed. When he woke, she fed him as much as she could and got him to drink too. She patted his forehead with a damp cloth whenever he felt hot and she hummed to him whatever songs she could remember.
Sophia held Carl's hand until it went cold.
A coyote howled a lonely song far away.
Daryl wanted to scream in frustration, he also wanted sit down and give up, and he wanted to hyperventilate. What Daryl did do was keep going with a vengeance. He out-legged the others
"Where did the other guys go to look for them?" He rounded on Maple Ann, crossbow at her temple again. With a scope looking her in the face, she was a lot more truthful.
"Back the other way." She cringed and backed away but Daryl bridged the gap. "East. They we-went east. There are some rentable hunting cabins down on Township Road Two Thirty-Five. I thought that's where you were going to go next."
"It's like having two search parties," the man he had been fighting with tried to make him feel better.
"Were the others going to come back to the camp if they found them?" Daryl asked.
"No. We were going to meet up at the cabins," Maple Ann said. "Then leave to Salt Lake City."
Daryl believed her, and he believed what Sara had said about none of them suspected that Maple Ann would do this. This all lead to a coherent story; she didn't want anyone back at their camp to know about her child abduction hobby.
"Matthew 5:5. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Maple Ann recited. "Those kids need to be with a larger community so they can live up to their true potential. Children are humanities future more than ever now. It is the Lord's plan."
Prejudice images of a beaten Carl carrying as much wood as he could with Sophia lagging behind, holding her lower back as she waddled in a man's coat that she was swimming in.
"Ya can't hit a girl," Daryl's own words came back to bite him in the ass. It took every fiber in him to restrain from punching her at the very least.
"Alright, I think we've gone this way far enough, they must've went another direction." Regan called it. "Let's go back to that ridge we past and look from up there."
Regan really was a hunter to be thinking like that. Daryl's instinct had apparently taken a bit of a leave of absence. His senses were sharp as hell though. He heard every little foot step of theirs, every ruffle of leaves. A walker that seemingly grew out of the ground, barely got the chance to grunt before Daryl put it down.
He stewed in thoughts of walkers tearing Maple Ann apart. When they came to the steep bank of the small cliff.
The top of the rocky hill was deserted. Daryl didn't know why he expected different, like he was reach the top of it and find the kids up there playing bullshit.
If anything has happened to Carl or Sophia, lady or not, I'll kill her. Slowly.
They walked along the top. Daryl as close to the edge as he dared, it wouldn't be a fatal fall. It would hurt and the illuminated bushes that were clustered at the bottom wouldn't be pleasant to fall into.
"What the fuck?" Regan's friend blurted out. He pointed to the valley.
A red light burned in the brush below like the flaming bush Moses saw. The last time Daryl saw that sort of light, he was holding it to keep back a pack of recently turned feral dogs.
They had had two road flares in their backpack.
Daryl draped the crossbow across his back and crept down the hill in a low crouch. He lost his footing on a loose rock and crashed down into the brush.
Something living – or not – moved a little to his right, he reached for the crossbow. Before he could get it off his back, he heard a small whimper that he would know anywhere.
It was Sophia.
Even though his body desperately wanted to pull out the kinks from the tumble. Daryl stayed on his knees. He grabbed Sophia and held her as tight as he could. She was shivering and he realized it was because she was soaked through to the bone.
She looked completely dumbstruck. Sophia couldn't believe her eyes.
"Ya ok?" he asked.
Sophia nodded. Daryl looked around but they were the only two around.
Instead of answering, she ran, leading Daryl, right behind her all the way to the road and the ridiculous sports car.
"Carl!" Sophia yelled. There was still no one around. "He got taken by these two guys, I have the keys so they couldn't go anywhere. Carl!"
They kept up hollering his name until they ran out of breath. When they stopped yelling they heard a thump, thump, thump, from inside of the trunk. Sophia hit the trunk button on the remote and Carl popped out like a jack in the box.
Sophia hugged him. Daryl looked him over when he caught sight of blood. It was only his lip otherwise he was unscathed.
Regan had caught up with the rest of his crew. Judging from the apologetic looks of the men that were looking for Carl and Sophia. Regan had filled them in.
"I would really hurt you but I'm trying to be a better role model." Daryl hissed at Maple Ann in parting.
There was nothing to do about what they had gone through now. What's done was done. The important thing was that they were fine.
They didn't say anything to each other as they made their ways to hunting cabins. It was a walk that felt like it took forever. They ran up the front steps of the first cabin they came across, #4 was labeled on a dingy yellow sign.
Without saying much, they made sure it was uninhabited and barricaded the front door.
"Let's see if we can find you something dry," said Daryl.
He was avoiding the elephant in the room. Too bad it was way too large to way around.
Daryl was knocked to the ground. Sophia sat on top of him, pummeling his ribs with her fists. It was surprisingly a little painful.
She had said that once before. And he had told her the last thing they needed to worry about was him abandoning them.
When Sophia's strength evaporated, Carl pulled her off Daryl.
With the shock of the ordeal fully gone, Daryl felt so many things, way more feelings than he had ever felt at once in his life or believed that one person could feel.
He was relieved that they were okay but he couldn't help but also mad that they had put themselves in such danger, they could've been killed. That was the feeling what he responded with.
"I'm the one who should be knockin' yer heads together!" Daryl said, getting to his feet. "What were ya thinking? Going out in the middle of the night. For fuck's sake, y'know what's out there, right?"
Carl knew that it was a valid argument but that didn't mean that he had to forgive Daryl for what he had done.
"You were the one who ran out. We went out there to get you." Carl snapped.
"That doesn't matter. I'm an adult."
"Yeah it does matter," Sophia piped up tearfully. "Our parents are coming, you coulda got left behind."
Daryl's heart felt like it plummeted on to his stomach. They thought their families were coming for them but they still went out into the night to find him. They didn't know why he left without saying anything and they still wanted him back.
"They ain't coming. I'm sorry, you guys. But we were all lied to."
"How do you know that?" asked Carl.
"When I came back to the camp to find you guys were gone, I was told that your parents never got in touch with the camp." Daryl did the nutshell version.
"Why did you leave?"
"I was told that your parents were coming." Daryl began, the rest spilled out once
"I figured you two weren't gonna need me ta look after ya then so I left. See if I could find my brother."
Sophia slapped him.
"How could you?" she said weakly.
"I'm here now, aren't I?"
Apparently that wasn't enough, they both looked so hurt. He didn't blame them for that. Daryl knew what it was like to have someone close leave. It left an uneasy feeling in your stomach that wouldn't let you eat for days. It made you think horrible things of you being the reason that they left.
"Jesus, what do ya want me to say?" Daryl got flustered. He wanted to fix it so bad. "That I'm the biggest moron in the whole world, 'cause I am."
"Tell the truth." Carl stated. "If you made a mistake, say that. But if you were really just trying to get away from us because you never really cared, stop pretending that you do and say that."
Sophia looked at Carl like he had just kicked a puppy really hard. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear that truth. But it was too late for her to pretend different now. She
"Of course I care. It weren't coincidence that I just came back to check on you two. I hated being apart. I couldn't take it. So I turned around." Daryl's voice was cracking.
"That's I didn't tell you I was leaving. I know it was really douche bag thing to do, but I couldn't do it because it would hurt too much to say goodbye."
They were all tearing up now. Carl wiped at his eyes aggressively at any tears that formed. Oddly enough Daryl didn't have the strength to fight it.
"The truth is if I tried to say goodbye, I never would've left."
Author's Note: Happy Halloween.
Thanks so much for your support through everything that has ever happened and your patience in the time it took for me to post this: DarylDixon'sLover, Candra'wolfgal97, Unfeigned, Rebecca taylor, GemmaTellerSoa, Punkrockerbabe95, PalmtopTiger999, Yazzy x, sue92178, tracys dream, Emberka-2012, Peachuzoid, mks 12 98, listening2, BannanaFlvdSnow, Mione788, guest, I luv ewansmile, itsi3, CholeTeller2k11, TheDarkDreamerSmiles, lilhanna, Ryack, kdoggt, Susemi, h8erade, mh10anthony (3x), Eamon Drake, dasserk, Atsila, RonneeM, Chades (3x), Guest.
I'm going to do NaNo in November (aka now) so I won't be updating. Yeah I know it's probably the last thing you want to hear from me since I haven't been here this month either, just know I tried but got a little busy unexpectedly and I was a super scatterbrained.
To make up for this hiatus, I plan on doing a kind of fan fiction appreciation month (which will be like NaNo only with works in process Walking Dead stories) in January. I will be back in December but with my tropical Christmas plans it wouldn't be a good month to do it. More details later if necessary later.