Author's Note: Hey everyone! So, in case you haven't noticed, I deleted the prologue of this story because frankly, I no longer intend to proceed the way it might have implied. I know that means that the chapter titles are really screwed up now, so hopefully, you forgive me and I hope you enjoy this chapter. xo.

Spare Me: Chapter 25.

When Daryl relieved Glenn for the dawn watch (and yes, he may have stolen a quick kiss before Glenn slid back into their tent), he realized something was different about the world. It wasn't the layout of the land or anything like that; the trees and tents were all exactly where they were supposed to be. The sun took a little longer to pop above the horizon and the light seemed a little weaker but that wasn't it either; there was something missing and when it finally hit him, Daryl felt like a complete idiot for not catching it earlier.

There were still birds heralding the onset of dawn but they were quieter than usual. He had been too busy searching and recovering to notice it, but they must have begun to fly further south. Even as he came to that realization, a chill wind blew through the trees and he really regretted not grabbing a shirt with sleeves on it. The air was getting cooler with each passing night. Fall was swiftly on the way and truthfully, Daryl didn't know if they were ready for it. If they had been welcome in the farmhouse, it wouldn't have been a problem but if Hershel still intended to kick them off the land as soon as possible, they had a lot of supplies to gather. They'd need more food, better tents, thicker jackets and sleeping bags. But even if they started preparing immediately, Daryl didn't think it would be enough. They'd gotten too complacent again, hadn't been thinking in the long run and it was going to impact them, there was no doubt about that.

Even if relying on someone else wasn't really his idea of an ideal situation, Daryl really hoped that Rick managed to convince Hershel to let them stay because frankly, he was certain that the farmhouse was going to be the difference between life and death and Christ, wasn't that a terrifying thought?

He'd been on watch for around an hour, picking at his crossbow to pass the time, when he heard the door of the RV creak open below him. This was swiftly followed by the entire thing shaking as someone ascended the rickety ladder and as soon as the old man's faded bucket hat popped over the edge, Daryl couldn't help but groan. Dale had seemed fine at the fire last night but of course, Daryl had known that things were too good to be true. He'd known that somebody was bound to be upset about him and Glenn but of course, no one was willing to come out and say it in the presence of the rest of the group.

He had a feeling Dale wouldn't be the only one he'd be fending off today, but better they go after him then Glenn.

"Morning Daryl," he sighed, pulling himself up and onto the roof. There was an extra chair beside him but he continued to stand, hands stuck down in the pocket of his khakis. Daryl grunted in response and kept his eyes firmly on the horizon, scanning the field for walkers for the twentieth time. After at least five minutes of tension-laden silence, where Daryl just barely managed to avoid snapping say your fucking piece, Dale sighed and plunked down into the other chair, clasping his hands between his knees.

"Fall is coming quickly," he said and all Daryl could do was stare at him. He was still sure that the old man was leading into some moralizing speech but he couldn't figure out how he was going to connect the topics of the weather and Daryl's relationship with Glenn.

"What makes you say that?" he said finally, picking at a chunk of dirt on his boots.

"When you get to be my age, you can feel the cold coming. It's not an old wife's tale, I promise." Daryl didn't have an adequate response to that so he simply kept his mouth shut and continued waiting, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Daryl, I'm not going to tell you that I think you're making a mistake, because I don't believe that," Dale finally said, just as Daryl's patience began to run out. "I might have thought that before but now..." He suddenly clapped a hand down on Daryl's shoulder and the unexpected contact made him jump. He wasn't sure how much he cared for the fatherly position Dale was suddenly taking on but it could have been a hell of a lot worse, he supposed.

"I think now, it's more important that we be happy than anything. Glenn's a good kid, Daryl-"

"Don't think I know that?" he interrupted, but Dale just kept talking like he hadn't said a word.

"-and as long as you don't forget the bigger picture, then I think you'll just be fine." With that, he stood up and although it took him a few moments to make his way back down the ladder, Daryl couldn't even begin to formulate a response. Sure, the whole thing had been vaguely condescending but he was sure that Dale had meant well. After all, regardless of the rest of the patronizing crap he'd said, he'd told Daryl that he wasn't making a mistake and on some level, that meant a lot.

Once the sun was fully above the horizon, Daryl decided to turn his attention to other things; primarily, on finding Sophia. Even if the others had allowed themselves to get distracted with other tasks, the fact was that he'd found solid proof; sure, it had been a few days since he'd discovered her doll on the riverbank but it was the only clue he had and now that he was back on his feet, he intended on following that lead up.

Giving up wasn't in his vocabulary, never had been.

He went on foot this time; if he had it his way, he wasn't riding a fucking horse ever again. Once he entered the forest, the absence of the birds was even more obvious; while a few were still sitting in the treetops, chirping and whistling, it was still much easier to hear his own footsteps than it had been before.

It took awhile to make his way to the riverbank; he supposed that, technically, he could have just slid down the hill as a shortcut but he'd already done that twice and he really wasn't planning on getting another one of his crossbow bolts stuck through his ribs anytime soon. By the time he managed to find his way down to the river, the sun was directly overhead and he was covered in sweat. The place stunk to high heaven; the two walkers that he had dispatched were still lying in the sun and when he skirted around one, he could see maggots squirming around in the zombie's collapsed nose. It was nearly enough to make him sick so he quickly turned his attention to the bank of the stream, where he'd found the doll.

He combed the area for what had to be an hour, sweat dripping into his eyes, looking for anything he might have missed in his disorientated, agonized state. But, simply put, the area was a complete wash. Aside from the doll, there was no sign that Sophia had ever been there; no footprints, no pieces of fabric from her clothes, not even twigs that she might have snapped. The more he searched, the more Daryl realized a rather disheartening truth: Sophia had probably never been in the area at all. While the current of the stream wasn't very strong, it certainly would have been enough to carry the doll and he had no idea how long the stream was or even where it originated from. He couldn't just go following it, not without a plan.

Once that realization fully sunk in, he spun on his toes and slammed his fist into the nearest tree trunk. He knew that it was an immature reaction, that it wasn't going to help anything but old habits died hard. The bark scraped the skin off of his knuckles but he ignored the pain and started making his way back towards the path, stopping to slam his boot into the rotting skull of one of the walker's as he passed. It exploded into a mess of gray-tinged flesh and squirming maggots and he regretted it almost immediately but he needed to get his anger out on something. Every little bit of hope he'd discovered so far had been completely invalidated and it was a fucking horrible feeling, like being powerless and weak.

Daryl had been called weak dozens of times in his life but to actually feel weak? Well, that was something else entirely.

As he made his way back to the farm, Daryl realized that the birds had fallen almost silent. The crickets and cicadas were still screeching but the heat of the day seemed to have silenced all the other creatures. His footsteps seemed extremely loud, too loud and when he abruptly stopped, there was a quick echo of steps from somewhere behind him. After a second, he started walking again but he tried to be quieter, softening his steps and now that he was listening, it was all too obvious that he was being followed. The person was obviously trying to be stealthy but was stepping on too many twigs and rustling too many branches to be any good at it. One tiny part of his mind couldn't help but wonder if it was Glenn, if he was attempting to sneak up on him for certain reasons but Daryl knew that was just a stupid idea. Even if they'd never spoken about it, Daryl knew that Glenn understood that there was a partition in their relationship. His nights were for Glenn, only Glenn; his days, on the other hand, were dedicated to sheer fucking survival. He knew the kid got that. So whoever was following him was doing it for other reasons and when another twig snapped too close for comfort, Daryl whirled around and brought his crossbow up to his face, finger on the trigger.

Shane. Of course it was Shane. At the fire the previous night, his face had revealed nothing but the man was also incapable of keeping his mouth shut about anything. He always had to have input. Still, the fact that he had followed Daryl out into the woods to apparently provide that (unwanted) input was more than a little bizarre. Combine that with the vaguely unstable look in his eyes and Daryl's nerves were on edge; he was ready to move no matter how the situation went.

"What the hell you doin' out here?" he asked, slowly lowering his crossbow so that it was pointed to the ground. He kept his finger on the trigger though, ready to fire at a moment's notice.

"Wanted to talk to you, Daryl," he said as he ran his hand over his bald head, stubble audibly rasping against his palm. "'Bout what happened yesterday."

"Isn't any of your goddamn business what happened yesterday," he snapped. Shane took another step forward and Daryl really didn't think he knew what he was doing. Cornering him out in the forest was not a good idea because although giving up was not part of being a Dixon, fighting when someone tried to cage you in was and it was an instinct he had never gotten rid of, wasn't one he wanted to get rid of, truth be told. His finger twitched against the trigger again but thankfully, before he had to raise the crossbow, Shane shrugged and ran his hand over the back of his neck, mouth quirking into a smirk. Nonetheless, despite his apparent backing down, Daryl was still on high alert because although that smirk may have looked harmless on its own, it seemed rather dangerous when combined with the spark of instability that was still present in Shane's eyes. Daryl didn't think that Shane would kill him; Lord knew that he certainly had the capacity for murder (because Otis hadn't been an accident, no matter what he said) but if Shane killed him, he'd have to create quite a fanciful tale to cover his tracks and Daryl didn't think he could pull off that big of a lie. Maybe he could have before Otis, but not now.

"S'fine, Daryl. I mean, I don't think you know what you're doing but-"

"I know exactly what I'm doing," he growled. "'Sides, I wouldn't be giving lectures on smart decisions if I were you." With that, Daryl started back towards the farm, keeping the hand that wasn't holding his bow on the handle of his hunting knife. He knew that the comment had probably been kind of a low blow but it was truth, pure and simple; sure, he'd never caught Lori and Shane in the act back at the quarry but it had been all too obvious that there had been something going on between the two of them. There was no way he was going to take love 'advice' from Shane, or anyone for that fucking matter.

At the back of the Greene's property, there was a small pond that the cows seemed to drink out of and Daryl stomped towards it, ready to start hollering curse words at the air. There was a small dock at the edge of the water and, shucking his boots off, he dangled his feet over the edge and laid down, staring up at the cloudless sky.

This was just fucking annoying; Shane was just fucking annoying. Daryl didn't particular care one way or another what Shane thought about his relationship with Glenn, but the fact that he had pretty well stalked him was definitely a problem. In fact, something wasn't adding up. If Shane had planned on confronting him, he hadn't done a very good job of it. Daryl had a feeling there was another reason he had been out in the forest and truth be told, he wasn't sure if he really wanted to know what it was. Instead of lingering on it, he sat up so that he could drop his swollen, scraped hand into the cool water of the pond. Once he had washed the blood off, he threw some water onto his face, scrubbing away the layer of sweat and dirt that had accumulated while he was in the forest As he finished up, he could hear footsteps approaching along the planks of the dock and when he twisted around, Rick was standing there, looking just as tired as ever, forearms streaked with dirt.

"I'm thinking we can go back out tomorrow," he said, hands on his hips and despite the bags under his eyes and the grime on his clothes, he looked every inch the deputy he'd used to be. "If we draw up some grids, we can assign everyone a sector. Want to do that now?"

What Daryl wanted to do was to warn Rick that there was something seriously wrong with Shane. But that was a boundary he didn't want to cross and besides, he had a feeling that Rick wouldn't listen to him anyways. So instead, he nodded and stood up, passing on putting his wet feet back into his boots and walking barefoot across the grass.

Drawing up the grids took longer than Daryl expected and by the time they finished up, it was already late in the afternoon. The rest of the day flew by in a blur of menial tasks but the surprises for the day didn't end after the sun went down. While Daryl was in the opening of his tent, figuring out which of his clothes needed to be washed (the answer was all of them), Glenn came walking over from the farmhouse, holding a slightly battered acoustic guitar in his hands. He'd never mentioned anything about playing but he sat down beside the fire and started picking at the instrument, fingers twisting the tuning pegs like it was second nature. Once he started playing, humming and occasionally singing quietly, Daryl could recognize quite a few of the songs. Most of them were classics, the ones most people learned how to play but there were a few that he was surprised by. There were also a few that brought up some rather unpleasant memories but once he shook those out of his head, he tossed his clothes back into the tent and made his way over to the fire, where the rest of the group had been kind enough to leave the seat beside Glenn open.

"Gonna play any ABBA?" he muttered into Glenn's ear as he sat down and he couldn't help but snort as Glenn turned a rather interesting shade of red, fingers stilling on the neck of the guitar.

"I knew I shouldn't have told you that," he groaned, smiling slightly despite the blush on his face. He went back to playing, strumming chords seemingly at random and now that he was sitting beside him, Daryl could tell that something was off. As soon as the smile left his mouth, he could see the anxiety etched into Glenn's face, present just underneath the surface. He was chewing on his lip and his eyes kept flicking off into the distance, like he was thinking hard about something, something that wasn't just what song to play next. But there was no way that Daryl was going to bring it up around the campfire, not when everyone else was around.

After dinner, Daryl took the first watch, which was just as uneventful as the morning one had been. But when he slid back into the tent, even in the dark, he could tell that Glenn's anxiety had increased tenfold. When he climbed into the pile of bedding beside him, having already shucked his shirt and jeans off, the kid was practically vibrating; his fingers were twitching against Daryl's bicep and he kept tossing and turning, kicking the blankets all over the damn place. Daryl could pretty well hear the thoughts racing through his head and after only a few minutes, he knew that neither of them were going to be getting any sleep until Glenn said what was bothering him.

"C'mon, spit it out," he sighed, sitting up and throwing the blankets to the side.

"You're not going to believe me if I say nothing's wrong, are you?" Glenn sighed, sitting up as well, his bare shoulder brushing against Daryl's.

"No."

"Fine." For a few very long moments, Glenn remained silent. His fingers were on Daryl's knee, blunt nails dragging over his skin and the longer he stayed quiet, the more pressure he put behind his fingertips. Finally, his mouth opened with an audible pop and his nails pressed down so hard that Daryl was pretty sure he was going to have marks indented into his skin for hours.

"Lori's pregnant," he finally sighed and admittedly, Daryl wasn't too surprised by that. He knew there were a number of issues that situation brought up, issues about whether or not this was a world to have a child in, he also knew those issues were none of his concern. Yet, while Daryl knew Glenn was empathetic, almost to a fault, he also knew there was no possible way Lori's pregnancy would stress him out that much. There was something else, there had to be.

"And?" he prompted, wincing as Glenn's nails dug into him some more. After a few seconds, Glenn muttered something so quietly that Daryl couldn't make out a single word. Before Daryl could say anything however, he sucked in a wavering breath and spoke again and although the words were still extremely quiet, Daryl heard them perfectly well and they made his blood turn cold as ice.

"Hershel... he's keeping walkers in the barn."

Sophia's disappearance, Shane's obvious instability and now this. Bad things really did come in fucking threes.