Originally written for the following prompt on The Walking Dead Kinkmeme over on LiveJournal in November 2011:
I don't know why I want this, or why I feel like I need this with the fire of a million suns but:
Daryl finds a dog and decides to keep it. Everyone is all, wtf, because he's all loving and caring with it, and god forbid he smiles ...
I don't know, I just need some stupid fluffy, adorable Daryl right now.
Dogs? Fluff? Daryl? Yeah, I was so on that! Been prettied up somewhat from the original post on LJ.

Set during the early part of season 2.

The title comes from the beautiful John Hiatt song "Have a Little Faith in Me" which was playing when I read the prompt and sort of became the inspiration for the story

Disclaimer: I don't own The Walking Dead or any of its characters and I am not profiting from this work of fiction.


Daryl doesn't want to admit it, but he's starting to lose faith.

It's been days since Sophia had gone missing in the woods, days and nights filled with more dangers than a twelve year old girl should have to face on her own, and despite himself, Daryl can feel his faith in her well being slipping away. But he continues to search for her, setting off into the forest each daybreak and coming back to the farm only when the last of the light has faded.

The sound of a twig snapping causes Daryl to spin 'round on his heel, crossbow raised. Whatever's behind him is alive, this much he knows. The dead fucking stink and Daryl's finely tuned nose isn't picking up the scent of rot that accompanies a walker. And it's not Sophia, can't be. Sounds more like an animal. It's moving low to the ground, keeping its distance, stopping whenever Daryl does, obviously keeping him in its sights. Daryl bristles. He doesn't like being tracked, much prefers the role of hunter.

A low growl fills the air and Daryl gets ready to let fly with a crossbow bolt. He steadies his stance, aims low. The growl becomes louder, but whatever's making it is staying out of sight in the bushes. Daryl takes a cautious step forward and the growl intensifies. Another step and the growl becomes a series of throaty barks. Daryl exhales, drops down to one knee, crossbow still at the ready, and calls out softly, "Here, pal, come on out. I'm not gonna hurtcha, just come on out of there."

The undergrowth parts, revealing the sorriest excuse for a mutt Daryl's ever seen. It's not a very big dog and its fur is so caked with mud he can't rightly tell what breed or even what colour it's supposed to be. Snarling, teeth bared, ready to defend itself again if need be. Daryl shifts into a crouch, inches forward. "Shhhhh, fella, easy now," he says. "Don't be scared, I told you I ain't gonna hurtcha. Wonder how long you've been running around out here, anyway. Bet you're hungry." He lowers his crossbow slowly and sets it across his knees, holding his empty hands out in front of him.

The dog stops its snarling and cocks its head. Daryl carefully reaches into his pocket, pulls out a piece of jerky he'd brought with him from Hershel Greene's farm and gently tosses it at the mutt. The dog sniffs at the dried beef before snatching it up with its mouth, wheels around and runs back into the trees. Daryl gets to his feet and, sighing, resumes his trek. "Dumb dog," he mutters for no real reason.

The sun is beginning to set, and Daryl knows it's time to knock off the search for another day, leaving Sophia alone in the dark yet again. Barely containing a frustrated sigh, he doubles back through the woods towards the farm. He'll have to face the others, see the despair and hopelessness in Carol's eyes when she realizes that he's returned without her daughter once more. The image overwhelms him and he has to stop and lean against a tree as he tries to force her face from his mind.

He becomes aware of the presence after a moment. The mutt is back, watching Daryl from a few metres away. The two of them lock eyes and the dog lets out a couple of sharp, excited barks, turns and runs a few paces, then stops again to look back at Daryl with an almost expectant expression. "Why do I get the feelin' you wanna show me something?" The disheveled mutt barks again, as if asking, "you comin' or what?"

Crossbow raised, Daryl trails the dog, though he's not really sure why. The sun has almost set; pretty soon it will be completely dark, and he needs to return to the rest of the group at the farm before they decide that he's gotten lost too, and do something stupid like come looking for him. But he follows the dog anyway, follows it until the mutt reaches a spot with especially thick underbrush and stops, looking at Daryl with that same expectant look on its face.

Daryl halts and listens to the sounds of the forest, the way he was taught as a boy, listens for any sounds that don't fit. After a second he hears it, a barely perceptible whining noise coming from among the roots of a large fallen tree. "Well I'll be," he murmurs as he approaches slowly, "Well I'll be damned."

The roots of the upturned tree have formed a secluded den, and Daryl crouches down next to it, shines his flashlight in. Two sets of eyes catch the light, and Daryl squints to see the tiny faces those eyes belong to. "Puppies, huh? Nice little family you've got yourself here, girl," he says to the dog, patting its -better make that her - head fondly. The pups are curled around one another in the den, resting against a heap of something that at first he can't quite make out...

Until the heap moves, crying out softly. Daryl's eyes widen in surprise and he drops his crossbow to the ground. "Sophia," he breaths, not quite believing his eyes. "Sophia, are you ok? We've been looking all over for you! Are you hurt?"

There's no answer, just the ragged sound of her breathing. "Come on Sophia, it's me, Daryl. We've gotta get you back to your mom. She's gonna be so happy to see you, everyone will. We've been staying at a real nice farm, you're gonna love it there."

Sophia still doesn't answer, and Daryl realizes that she's sleeping. "Poor kid," he sighs. He carefully pulls the two squirming pups out of the den and deposits them both next to their mother who immediately begins to fuss over them in the way only a mom can. He lies down on his stomach and reaches into the den, fingers lightly closing around the girl's shoulder.

"Wake up Sleepin' Beauty, it's time for the big dance. Everyone's waitin' for you." He squeezes her shoulder, gentle as can be.

Sophia moves again, opens her eyes. Daryl adjusts the beam from his flashlight so that it's not shining directly in her face, but so she can clearly make him out. "Daryl?" she croaks weakly. "Am I dreaming?"

Daryl shakes his head, smiles at her. "Nah, you're not dreamin', Sophia. Nice little place you've got here, by the way. Can you come out of there by yourself or do you need me to help you?" Sophia nods and takes his outstretched hand, allowing him to pull her out of the den and sit her up against the trunk of a tree. "That's a good girl. You hurt anywhere?" She shakes her head as he passes his flashlight over her, taking note of her mud-streaked face and tangled hair. She looks exhausted and she's filthy, but otherwise apparently uninjured, thank god. "Wanna go see your mom?"

That's when the dam breaks, and Sophia starts sobbing, winding her skinny arms around Daryl's neck. He freezes for a sec, before wrapping his arms around her, holding her close as she cries. "Hey now, easy there. It's ok, you're ok, and I'm gonna keep you safe. No need for tears." But he holds her until she's done, the small family of mutts sniffing around them.

The sounds the pups are making seem to bring Sophia back. She lets go of Daryl and sits against the tree. "Aren't they cute?" she sniffles, dragging her sleeve across her dirty face. "They were out here with their mom. I think they've sort of adopted me." She strokes the head of one of the pups, and gives the other a kiss on the nose. "I haven't named the babies yet, but the mom's called Faith. I think she looks like a Faith, don't you?" She smiles weakly up at Daryl who nods, swallows hard. "How are we gonna get 'em home?"

xxxxxxxxxxx

Dale sits on top of his battered RV, scanning the woods at the edge of the farm with a pair of binoculars. From down below he can hear the now familiar sounds of the group getting ready to eat supper, dishes, pots and utensils being made ready. And, directly underneath him, inside the RV, he can hear Carol pacing, waiting for Daryl to return, praying that this time he'll have Sophia with him. Dale doesn't think Carol's got much left in her, that she dies a bit each night her daughter doesn't come back to her.

A movement at the tree line breaks Dale's reverie. He stands, focusing his old binoculars until the figure comes into clear view. He breaths a sigh of relief as he recognizes Daryl, who seems to be carrying something on his back, and then stiffens again as he detects something following behind him. Looking more closely, eyes adjusting a bit better to the twilight, he nearly drops the binoculars.

"Everyone, come quick! It's Daryl and he's got something! It's- it's Sophia! Daryl's got Sophia!"

He watches as Daryl approaches with Sophia hanging off of his neck like she's getting a piggy back ride from a favourite uncle. Loping behind him, shepherding two pups along, is the most bedraggled looking dog that Dale has ever laid eyes on.

Suddenly, the group springs into action, and Carol comes running out of the RV. "Sophia! Oh god, Sophia!" She runs straight for Daryl, sobbing her daughter's name.

After that, things get a bit surreal as the rest of the group surrounds them, someone untangling Sophia from around Daryl's neck and sprinting with her towards the farm house, where Hershel and his family are watching from the porch. Then everyone's hugging Daryl, congratulating him, slapping him on the back. Glenn picks up the puppies, who seem delighted by all of the attention, and takes them inside, Faith following protectively.

And then it's late, and Sophia's been given a clean bill of health, a meal, and a bath; she's been in to visit Carl, and now she and her mother are sleeping soundly together in a warm, fresh smelling bed in the farm house. The dogs have also received a clean bill of health, and the pups are sleeping as well, one next to Sophia, and one on Carl's bed, where it had dozed off during Sophia's visit. The house and the camp are finally silent, and Daryl lowers himself into a chair on the porch, grateful to have some time to process the day's events. Faith settles at his feet, like she's always had a place there. She's not all that big, and after a time Daryl pats his lap, invites her up. He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the siding, stroking Faith's mud caked head. "Tomorrow you're gettin' a bath, girl," he says, fighting back a yawn.

That's how Glenn finds him early the next morning, snoring softly, Faith curled asleep in his lap. Glenn moves to wake him, but stops and takes in the sight, an ear to ear threatening to split his face in two.

Daryl Dixon, post-apocalyptic bad ass, is smiling in his sleep. He looks peaceful, like he's found something he didn't even know he was missing. Glenn contemplates getting a blanket and just letting Daryl sleep there for as long as he wants, but the sounds of people waking up and going about their morning routines changes his mind. Daryl would fucking hate for anyone to see him like this, vulnerable, and maybe just a little bit adorable. Glenn touches Daryl's shoulder lightly, giving him a gentle shake until Daryl's eyes flutter open. He glares at Glenn. "What the fuck?"

Faith wakes up then too, leans up to lick Daryl's face before hopping off his lap, presumably going off to check on her pups. Glenn shakes his head and laughs, earning himself a very dirty look from Daryl. "Dude, don't worry, your secret's safe with me." He tugs the bill of his cap down, hiding his smile.

Daryl manages to look even more irritated than usual. "Oh yeah? What secret's that?" He scowls at Glenn, daring him to make a smart-ass come back, and Glenn doesn't fail to deliver.

"That despite the asshole persona that you project to everyone, you're nothing but a big ol' softie when it comes to animals and kids." He grins again, before becoming serious. "You found her. You said she'd be ok, and you were right. We were all losing hope, but not you. And not only did you find Sophia, you found those dogs. It's incredible. You're literally everyone's hero now, you know that, right?"

Daryl snorts. "Bullshit! I only did what what had to be done. The girl's back with her mom, good, I'm glad. But I ain't no hero, let's get that straight right now. And, besides..." he trails off, suddenly sounding unsure and Glenn frowns.

"Besides?" he prompts.

"None of your business!" Daryl says sharply. No goddamn way is he going to share his momentary crisis of confidence in finding Sophia with the fucking kid who had just gone and called him a hero.

Glenn takes the hint and, grumbling, he stalks off, leaving Daryl alone. Not for long though, because Faith reappears, and leaps back into his lap. "You're a good girl," he says, yawning. "Thanks for taking me to Sophia. Not sure I'd have found her otherwise." The mutt looks up, an almost serene look on her little face, before curling up tightly on Daryl's lap. Daryl pats her gently, and they sit together like that, watching the sun come up.