Disclaimer: All rights for The Walking Dead go to Robert Kirkman and AMC
Author's Note: Why write this? I don't know. The drama llama needs a kick in the shins.
There were few options of refuge at this point.
He wanted to be alone but knew that isolating himself would only make his brain work in overtime to the point where the situation got skewed even more than it already was. The RV was out of the question, as was his own tent.
Rick didn't even hesitate. He stood in front of Daryl's open tent and shoved his hands in his pockets.
The injured man was reading one of Dale's books and looked like he only had about a third of the whole thing to finish it. He carefully hooked his thumb between the pages in lieu of a bookmark and raised an eyebrow at Rick's unexpected appearance.
"Problem, officer?" he drawled.
Rick shook his head and gestured inside the tent. "Mind if I come in?"
Daryl shrugged one shoulder.
Rick carefully sat in the folding chair Carol had set up beside the sleeping pallet and dropped his forehead in the palm of his hand.
Seeing the other man's need for quiet, Daryl went back to reading his book.
It wasn't until much later, when the sun dipped so low in the horizon that Daryl decided to stop reading to avoid unnecessary eye strain, that Rick realized just how much he needed to say something.
"Can I ask you somethin', Daryl?"
"How'd you meet up with these people?" Rick asked.
Knowing that, like all cops, Rick was leading up to a series of questions, Daryl carefully sat up and crossed his legs to get more comfortable and focused. "Back on the highway outside Atlanta. Saw Sophia lookin' for her mama when that asshole Ed was beatin' Carol for sneakin' some jerky to Carl an' Lori. I stayed with her 'til Ed came stormin' outta the woods with Carol."
Rick frowned. "How'd you know?"
Daryl pressed his lips together and breathed through his nose for a few seconds. "Seen that kinda shit before. Didn't know Carol well enough to help out no more'n I tried.
"She's the one who introduced me to your wife and son. Couldn't stand to see the kids hungry, so I went huntin' and brought back a couple squirrel," he smirked slightly. "Your kid's pretty good at cleanin' game. You know that?"
Rick shook his head.
Daryl shrugged. "Kid's a regular Daniel Boone. Wasn't squeamish'r nothin'."
Rick smiled, feeling a swell of pride for his son and struck with the desire to tell the boy how Daryl viewed him. Carl seemed very upset when he heard what happened to the hunter last night.
He wanted to ask where Merle fit in to the situation but Rick still wasn't sure how the younger Dixon felt about him on that issue. After biting so many other bullets during the day, Rick gave this one a go.
"What about Merle?"
Daryl flinched almost imperceptibly and Rick saw his hand make an aborted grasp at his ribs. The scars he'd seen yesterday while Hershel stitched up Daryl's wounds suddenly made sense in the worst way. "My brother weren't in the best mood when he finally caught up to me. Fucker was higher'n hell, too."
"Daryl, about Atlanta—to tell you the truth, I was expectin' you to still be pissed at us all."
Rick watched the other man think this over and wondered just how wrong he'd been about him upon his first impressions.
"Had time to think it over. Ain't any sense in thinkin' of the 'shouldas' and 'couldas' in any situation. 'Specially not now."
Rick looked down at his hands and let the quiet take hold once again. Daryl chewed the inside of his lip and leaned forward a little bit.
"I know you had a shitty day. Sound travels 'round here and tents don't have walls. Folks tended to forget I was laid up in here and just carried on like normal outside, so I heard plenty. So you go ahead and say what's weighin' that head o' yours down 'fore it starts eatin' you up."
The quiet rasp of Daryl's voice softened the emotional impact of the outside situation and Rick found himself cracking just a bit in front of the other man. His face crumpled but Rick didn't look away and let the words pour out of him.
"Lori's pregnant and didn't want to tell me 'cause she thought I didn't need more on my mind. Hershel wants us to leave 'soon as we find Sophia. Shane thinks she's dead and we should just stop lookin' for her. And when my wife thought I was dead, she had sex with my best friend."
Daryl didn't move. His eyes had tightened at the mention of Shane's belief in Sophia's total loss, but he remained otherwise impassive. Rick watched him think through each confession and felt a strange sense of peace wash over him when Daryl finally looked him in the eyes again.
"I can only tell you two things with certainty. Carol's little girl ain't dead, and your wife loves you."
Perhaps it was the way he said it—his eyes unwavering and his low tone filled with a conviction Rick usually heard from his superior back in the force—or perhaps it was the words themselves. Whatever it was about Daryl Dixon, Rick could tell his unwavering belief in Sophia's survival and Lori's love was borne of something other than blind faith.
"How? I need to know, Daryl. How can you be so sure Sophia's alive?"
"Did you hear what I said? Sophia's gonna be just fine. Focus on your woman for a moment, Grimes. Y'all got a screwed up situation here."
Rick matched Daryl's steady gaze.
"Here's the question: Do you love your woman?"
"You wanna keep her?"
"Then get the fuck outta here and tell her that."
Rick smirked at the dismissal and stood to leave. Daryl laid back down and draped an arm across his eyes. Pausing at the unzipped doorway of the tent, Rick glanced back.
"You're alright, Daryl."
"Can't hear ya. Sleepin.' Gotta get off my ass tomorrow an' go look for Sophia."
Rick shook his head and walked outside.