Daryl scowled when the foul stench of a rotting something hit him in the face, his face contorting into a look of disgust. He put his back against a dying maple and crouched, bringing his crossbow to the ready. Whatever was rotting was obviously being eaten, the squishing sounds of innards being ripped out and the smacking sounds of peeling lips filling his ears. Daryl peered around the curve of the tree, spotting two Walkers kneeling in front of a ripped open deer, shoving bloody guts and intestines into their greedy mouths. He stepped out, careful of any sticks lying around so he wouldn't snap them and gain their attention, and pulled the trigger of his crossbow. He watched as the bolt soared through the air, hitting one of the Walker's in the middle of the eyes, and he watched as the corpse fell to the ground. Its partner paused in eating and slowly looked over at fallen Walker, a piece of deer meat falling from its mouth. It wasn't two seconds later, and that Walker followed the same fate as its partner.
The hunter stood up, scanning the area for any other undead, and walked towards the dead deer. Daryl shook his head, fingers running through his hair. "Fucking Christ..." he spat, gazing down at the deer."There goes dinner again." Daryl fell to his knees, examining the deer for any salvageable parts, but the Walkers had gotten their grubby, infected hands all over the animal, leaving the creature inedible and tainted. After standing up, he kicked the deer's head out of frustration, grunting as he did so. "You're supposed to run from those bastards so I can kill ya later, you fucking-" Kick. "-useless-" Another kick. "-animal!"
Something snapped in the distance, and Daryl's crossbow was up, ready to be shot.
"Can I come down now?" a small voice asked.
The hunter looked up, his blue eyes settling on a small girl clutching the tree's trunk, sitting in the branches. That little girl was none other than Sophia, Carol's daughter. Despite her mousey appearance and gangly physique, Daryl reminded himself of the shit she was put through all her life. He rubbed his cheek tenderly, remembering her gorilla of a father landing a hit there, but for every hit Ed landed on him, Sophia had probably endured ten times as much. Daryl's lips set in a firm line when he noticed the fading bruise on Sophia's left shoulder when her shirt collar drooped to the side. For some reason, the scars on his back ached all of a sudden, causing him to shake his head in order to rid any memories coming through.
"What're you doin' up there?" he asked, his voice low.
"Hiding," she replied, her voice just as low, but soft.
Her response caused his stomach to churn.
"From my daddy."
His next question sat on his tongue and refused to come out. The memories that he had tried to suppress were slowly coming back to life: the crack of his dad's belt on his back, the blood that would wash away in the shower after he'd taken a beating, the times when he wanted to take his dad's revolver and shoot a round right into his dad's head. Daryl had to wonder if Sophia ever had those thoughts or maybe wishing that her dad would be bitten and turn into one of those walking corpses. A fate worse than death, everyone says; Ed Peletier had definitely deserved it. Seeing Sophia up in the tree, he knew that Carol was most likely in panic, searching for her missing daughter with thoughts of Walkers or Ed getting to her.
"C'mon, I'll help you get down," Daryl said, leaning his crossbow against the trunk, reaching up to grab Sophia's stretched out hand. The girl slowly lowered herself from the branch, Daryl's large hands surrounding her
waist so he could set her on the ground. As he was setting her down, he saw the bruise again, black and edged with red and purple. And as his blue gaze met her brown one, he knew that she didn't deserve the abuse, just as he didn't deserve his dad's fists and belt throughout his childhood. Sophia bent down to pick up her doll, the toy looking worse for wear.
Sophia looked back at the gutted deer, face expressionless. "Does that mean we won't be eating tonight?" she asked.
"Nah, I'll get somethin'. Don't worry," he said, picking up his crossbow. He was determined to get a deer and some squirrel for everyone. That was his one and only job, and he didn't want to fail it. "C'mon, kid, we gotta get you back to the camp. Your mom's prob'ly worried sick." Daryl went to set his hand on her shoulder, but the small girl flinched, shrugging her shoulder away. Then it dawned on him that he almost put his hand on her bruised shoulder, but maybe that wasn't the only reason. She was probably afraid of men now, thanks to her dad. He remembered when he used to flinch too, even at his brother's touch, but Merle had taught him quickly to never be afraid of anything, especially their old man.
"No!" she cried, shuffling away. "I...I mean..." Her head hung, ashamed of raising her voice to an adult. "I just..."
"I'm not gonna hurt you," Daryl reassured.
"I know," Sophia said weakly. "I just don't want to go back to my...daddy."
"The woods are dangerous, kid." Daryl jutted a thumb over his shoulder towards the forest. "Lions, tigers, bears; you know, all that...scary stuff."
"And Walkers," Sophia added.
"Yeah, those too."
Daryl quirked a smile, remembering how Merle used to have a "distaste" (Merle liked to call it) for spiders when they were kids. But now, since time and pain had made both Merle and Daryl older, small things like spiders didn't bother them. Sophia dusted off her doll, her lips puckering when dirt and dust flew off her toy. Daryl had to wonder just what kind of person Sophia really was: was she meek and quiet, the person that her father forced her to be, or did she have some kind of boldness in her that no one knew about? He shook his head, pointing towards the direction of the camp. "C'mon, kid, I have to take you back. I'm tryin' to hunt and you'll prob'ly scare the game off. Let's go." And he started for the camp, but something stopped him.
Sophia didn't move from her spot.
"Let's go!" Daryl barked, his voice coming out harsh.
The girl shook her head.
"C'mon, we have to-"
"I don't want him to...touch me again."
Daryl's eyes got a bit wider; visions of Ed Peletier dragging his vulnerable daughter into their tent clouded his mind. He quickly shook away the images, looking over at the girl. Her face was emotionless, lips turned into a natural frown, eyes showing all the sadness and pain that she was feeling. He never knew he'd have so much in common with a little, twelve year-old girl; in so many ways Sophia reminded him of himself when he was her age. He remembered how his mind used to play games with him, telling him that he was a problem child, that his dad was a sensible man who didn't do things without a reason, and that he was the reason his dad was a drunken, drug-abusing monster. At least Sophia had her mom, something that he didn't have growing up, but even then, Carol was just as defenseless and vulnerable as Sophia.
He was scared of her answer. No...he was terrified of it.
All Sophia did was look down at herself, squeezing her thighs together, and that was a good enough answer.
"Does your mom know?" he asked softly.
Sophia diverted her eyes from his, shifting nervously. "I think she does."
"Does she...do anything about it?"
A simple shake of the head from the girl made his gut flip over and over until he felt like he was going to puke. Daryl turned away, his hand covering his mouth. God, he felt sick. This shouldn't have affected him like this. Sophia wasn't his kid, wasn't his to worry about, so he didn't have to feel this bad for her. But the thought of Carol turning a blind eye just because she couldn't do anything about it or make it worse if she did try and fight Ed disturbed him. Questions like how far Ed had gone plagued his mind now, wishing they wouldn't. Those questions, mixed with memories of his childhood, was almost too much for him.
"Are you okay?" Sophia asked, voice barely a whisper.
"Yeah," Daryl choked out, "I'm fine."
"Can I...come with you?" she asked hesitantly.
Daryl clutched at his crossbow, forcing himself to answer.
"Yeah...yeah, you can," he said with a nod of his head. "But you have to be careful, and be quiet."
"If any Walkers come around, I'll climb a tree, and let you take care of them." Sophia cracked a small smile when she said that.
Daryl snorted. "Ain't that just sweet of ya."
He could remember his eighteenth birthday, January 6th to be exact, when his Horton Scout HD 125 was introduced in his life. Merle had saved up enough money from doing odd jobs around their hometown to buy the crossbow for him. That day, Daryl had walked into the kitchen, his blue eyes resting on the weapon wrapped in a green ribbon. Merle had been leaning the doorway leading outside, the screen door propped open with one of their dad's old boots so air could cool the shack down. When Daryl had looked up at his older brother, Merle had been wearing that signature smirk of his, looking proud of his handiwork.
"Thought maybe it was time for my sweet baby brother to get his first big boy toy."
Daryl crouched low behind a fallen tree trunk, Sophia kneeling next to him, peering at both him and the deer up ahead. The hunter positioned his crossbow just right, looking through the scope to align the weapon. He remembered when Merle had nodded towards the woods, telling Daryl that it was time he hunted like a true man, and taught him how to use the crossbow. He remembered the first deer he ever shot, a doe that had been grazing out in an open field. Merle had told him three things: be quiet, be patient, and be prepared for disappointment. Hunting was a tricky sport, Merle said, and every hunter had to be prepared to come home empty-handed.
He pulled the trigger, and the crossbow bolt went straight through the buck's neck, the animal crumbling to the ground.
"You got it!" Sophia exclaimed quietly, staring at the dead deer with amazement. He was surprised that she didn't wince, didn't feel bad for the animal he just killed. The girl turned to him, eyes wide and a smile at her lips. "Can I hold it?" she asked, pointing towards the crossbow. Daryl looked between Sophia and his bow, frowning. They stood up, the hunter contemplating about giving her the bow. Sophia's words about her dad touching her invaded his mind, telling him that Sophia had probably been denied so many things in her life that him saying no to her wouldn't really affect her. Daryl held out the weapon, watching as Sophia reached for it slowly.
"Be careful with her," Daryl said, letting his hands slip from the crossbow when he made sure she had a good hold on it. "She's just as old as I am."
Sophia's arms slightly fell from the full weight of the crossbow, and Daryl went to catch it, but Sophia managed to hold it up, her skinny arms wobbling. She whipped it around, looking down the scope, one eye closed. He felt the corner of his lips lift, the sight before him amusing.
"It's a girl?" she questioned, using all her strength to give the crossbow back.
"I guess..." Daryl said unsurely. "Men always call their valuables 'girl'."
"I don't know." He shrugged. "Instinct?"
"What's her name?" Sophia's eyes were wide as she questioned him.
Daryl shrugged again, and said, "I don't know. She doesn' have one, I guess."
"Juliet?" He lifted his crossbow, his eyes scanning over it. Despite the age of the weapon, it looked almost new since he'd taken such great care of it. "It does sort of look like a Juliet, doesn' it?"
Sophia nodded. She then pointed at the deer. "We have to get dinner, don't we?"
"Yeah, yeah we do."
"My mom talks about you."
"Good things, I hope."
"She said you beat up my daddy twice."
"Do you hate me for it?"
"Can you teach me how to beat him up?"
Daryl stopped, Sophia taking a few steps before stopping as well. The hunter had his crossbow slung across his back, clutching a bag of meat in one of his hands. His face was straight, leaving him hard to read. Sophia clutched her doll to her chest as her brown eyes bore into his blue ones. Maybe her question had caught him off guard? Probably since shock was beginning to form on his face.
"I don't think your mom would appreciate that," Daryl said finally, shaking his head.
"Oh..." Sophia looked away, suddenly shy. "I just thought maybe I'd finally be able to save my mom."
Daryl stiffened, the scars on his back beginning to ache again. There had been a time when Merle was at home, fresh from juvenile detention, and it had been his mission to teach his little brother how to defend himself. Merle taught the tricks of the trade, telling him to guard his face and head at all times because a punch to the head could send you down in a heartbeat. He taught him to always angle his legs in a certain way so that his groin wasn't exposed, a spot that attackers always went for when the opportunity arose. And Merle told him to always breathe, always. Adrenaline, though the rush was something pleasant, was bad for you, and it left your mind foggy. Protect the head and groin and always breathe; Daryl had remembered those rules well when a group of boys had surrounded him one time at his high school.
"I just thought-"
Sophia jumped when a thwhipping sound soared past her ear, a thumping sound following shortly after. She looked over, seeing a large hunting knife stuck in a tree not too far from her. She turned towards Daryl, a smug look on his face. Knife-throwing had been something he taught himself, impressing Merle when he finally showed him the skill. The hunter walked past her, grabbing the knife, pulling it out the trunk with one hard tug. He leaned "Juliet" against a tree, setting the bag of raw venison by it.
"Hold this," he instructed, flipping the knife and catching the blade, presenting the handle to the girl. "I'll teach ya how to throw knives."
Sophia's face lit up, a grin breaking out across her face. "Really?"
"Yep." He stood behind her, pointing towards a tree that was closer to them. "Now, I need you to hold the blade in your hand- no, not like that. You'll end up cutting your hand off doing that. Here...yeah, just like that." Then, he stood beside her after moving her hand around the knife in the right position. "Now, bend your arm like this," he said, bending his arm back in an acute angle, hand past his left ear. "And send your hand forward, and flick the knife."
"Well, flicking it is the best way to describe it."
And he watched as Sophia did exactly as he told her, but her throwing was weak, and the knife flipped once and bounced off the handle. The girl's shoulders slumped in disappointment, but Daryl jabbing her in the shoulder caught her attention.
"I hate to admit it, but you did better than I did when I started. I threw it straight through my boot my first time."
"Straight through your boot?" Sophia repeated in awe, her eyes widening.
"Yeah, but don't tell anyone that, especially Merle. He'd never let me forget."
That's when she asked, "Is your brother nice?"
Daryl thought for a moment before answering, "He can be. He's just rough around the edges."
"My daddy said he's a wife-beater." What she said was out of innocence and there was no ill-will present, but her comment still irked him.
"My brother is nothing like that piece of shit scumbag you have for a dad," he hissed. His tone made her wince, but he overlooked it. "Merle may be a bit screwed up in the head because of the drugs, but he's not a wife-beater and he would never lay a hand on a kid, ever. We were abused as kids too, and if Merle ever had kids, I know he wouldn't want to put his kid through that kind of hell." He could remember a time when some douchebag had been bragging about beating up his kid when he and his brother went in for a drink at Merle's favorite bar. When the story reached Merle, Daryl watched as his brother hauled the child abuser off his stool by the collar, Merle breathing deeply, just as he had taught Daryl to do in stressful situations.
"You better get out of my bar, big boy, before I make you wish you'd never been born." Merle had said, in that low, raspy voice of his. "I've met your boy before, and he deserves a better father than some sick, twisted, scumbag son of a bitch such as yourself."
Merle had been banned from that bar.
"So, he's nice?" Sophia asked.
"When he's sober," Daryl said. "Do you want to throw the knife again?"
Before she could answer, a panicked woman's voice called out. "Sophia? Sophia! Sophia, baby!" It was Carol, staggering through the woods towards them. A group of four was hurrying after her, two of them armed with guns and the other two baring melee weapons. Carol fell to her knees in front of Sophia, wrapping her frail arms around her daughter, sobbing uncontrollably. Shane and Morales scanned the area for any Walkers, panting from running such a long distance. Daryl tensed when he saw Ed standing there with a look of disgust on his face, Daryl bringing up his crossbow, ready to attack the bastard if he tried to hurt the woman and her child.
"Well, well, well," someone said beside him. Daryl looked over to see Merle standing there, holding a shotgun. "Seems like my baby brother is a hero today. Good job, Darlina." Merle mocked.
The Dixon Brothers watched as Carol stood up shakily, curling an arm around Sophia, guiding her in the direction of the camp. Shane and Morales followed them, constantly on the guard for any Walkers or other predators. The last person to leave was Ed, who glared at Daryl in contempt. And that's when he opened his big, fat mouth.
"Have fun with my little girl, Dixon? She's a real treat, isn't she?"
The thought of Ed touching that little girl made Daryl's skin crawl.
Merle noticed his younger brother's discomfort, eyes flicking back towards Ed.
"Real fun to play with," Ed taunted, sneering.
"Just go, dickhead!" Daryl shouted.
Ed smirked before turning and leaving, the Dixon Brothers being left behind.
"He abuses her, you know," Daryl finally said to Merle, whose eyes narrowed as he watched Ed walk towards the camp. "He touches her."
There was a moment of silence between the two before Merle tilted his head, gave a smirk, and said, "You know, I always felt that he was missin' somethin'." And he snatched Daryl's crossbow out of his hands, stretched it out in front of him, and shot a bolt straight into Ed's ass. The abuser let out a loud, pained yell, collapsing to the ground, earning the attention of the four ahead of him. Merle shoved "Juliet" back into Daryl's arms before marching towards Ed. Daryl watched as his brother got down on one knee, laughing at the sight the tears that streamed down Ed's face. Carol was howling, Morales trying his best to calm her down so as not to attract the undead.
"Dixon, what the hell are you doing?!" Shane yelled, stomping towards the two men.
Merle looked up at the ex-sheriff deputy. "Don' he look so nice with a bolt in his fat ass?" he questioned, slowly looking down at a cringing Ed. Merle tilted his head to the other side, a grin stretching across his face. Merle shushed the crying man gently when he stroked Ed's face with two fingers. "Don't worry, Eddie boy, Uncle Merle will take good care of you." Shane went to grab Merle's wrist, but the ex-Marine pointed his shotgun at the man, scolding him softly. "Now, now, Sheriff, don' get fussy."
"Let him go, Dixon. You've caused enough trouble," Shane said.
"Oh, but I was only goin' to help him," Merle replied, feigning an innocent look as he pulled the bolt out of Ed's ass. He twirled it between his fingers a few times before embedding the bolt into Ed's other cheek, causing the pudgy man to let out a yell. "Shush now, sweetie, we wouldn't want to attract any Walkers, now would we?"
"C'mon, Merle," Daryl said, nudging his brother on the shoulder with his crossbow. "You can play with him later."
Merle looked up at Daryl, faking disappointment. "You ruin the fun, little brother. But before I go-" Merle grabbed Ed by the man's scruffy hair, lifting his head up. "-I just wanted to say that I think men that beat their children are nothin' more than sick fucks that need to be strung up and set on fire." And with that, Merle shoved Ed's face in the dirt, and stood up. He gave a swift kick to Ed's head, and walked away, Daryl following him. When they reached Carol and Sophia, Merle paused, looking down at the girl.
Before he could walk away though, Sophia let out a small, "So, you are nice."
Merle's face was straight, but then a small smile cracked at his lips. "Nicer than that sorry fuck you have for a dad." And he walked away towards the direction of the camp, a hop in his step that he always got when he felt accomplished about something.
Daryl gave a weeping Carol a lingering look before, he too, walked away.
"Take care of Juliet for me!" Sophia called out.
And Daryl Dixon silently promised he would, and months later, even after he would set a Cherokee Rose on her grave, he would still keep his promise.
And even after, when he would receive his new crossbow, he would still have Juliet, and he would call his new one "Sophia".
So...it's been about a year since I've updated this...sorry. :/ Well, anyways, I know this is basically a Daryl/Sophia-centric chapter, but it was in my mind and I wanted to write it and post it for you all to read. And I just had to add Merle in there, so this chapter can be set before some of the Atlanta survivors go back to the city. I hope you enjoyed this, and if you have anything you want me to write about, go ahead and tell me. I'm hoping sometime I'll post a story about the Dixon Brothers, but we'll just have to wait and see!
Author's Note- Fin