Title: Fair Trade
Fandom: The Walking Dead
Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to The Walking Dead, but a girl can dream, right?
Rating: T
Pairings: Daryl/Andrea
Genre: Friendship, Hurt/Comfort
Spoilers: Takes place shortly after 2.07 - Pretty Much Dead Already

A/N: This is my first time dabbling in The Walking Dead fandom, but I've become a hardcore Daryl/Andrea shipper recently and couldn't let this one sit. I'm a bit nervous about my characterization, so I hope it's not too off. Thanks for taking the time to read!

She brings him an arrow.

He's been hiding behind one of Hershel's sheds, frantically scrubbing at the perpetually dirty skin on his arms and chest and face with a damp rag. The tanned flesh that hides under the grime and sweat is turning red from the force of his effort, but he still can't seem to get rid of the guilt or the stench of failure that encompasses him.

He doesn't say anything when she approaches, doesn't even feel like speaking enough to tell her to get lost, but he watches her with narrowed eyes when she stops just short of him and holds out the arrow like some kind of peace offering.

"An answer for an arrow?" she asks softly, her gaze intently meeting his.

He wants to know where she got it from, because he can see it's too new and too clean to be from his own collection. He wants her to tell him how long she's been hiding it and why she's standing in front of him right now and why she's looking at him the way she is.

Most of all he wants to laugh at the absurdity of it, her acting like this is some sort of private joke between them and that an arrow means anything to him in the light of things.

There's a part of him that's a little too curious about what she's going to say next, though, so he accepts the offer with a curt nod and a raised eyebrow and maybe a little bit of a glare.

"Are you okay?" is what she chooses to ask, and he's quick to let out a sarcastic snort in response.

"Waste of an arrow," he grumbles at her, letting the spent rag fall from his hands and land on the dusty ground. He takes the object in question from her and holsters it through his belt loop.

"I'm the one who gets to decide that. And that wasn't much of an answer, anyway."

He fidgets under her stare and begins to find it unnerving the way she won't break eye contact, like she's trying to see him despite his best efforts to be invisible right now. There's a deep pause between the two as they size each other up.

"Been better," he finally concedes, and his shoulders slump just a little under the weight of his answer and he hopes she doesn't notice.

She does, though; of course she does, and he doesn't have a second to think before she's embracing him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck in an effort to keep him from immediately pulling away.

At first he's too stunned to move at all, really, and then he doesn't know where to put his hands so he leaves them to hang awkwardly at his sides.

"You did everything you could for her. Everything. Please believe that," she whispers into his ear. Her voice is watery and he thinks maybe he feels a tear or two drop onto his shoulder.

He doesn't know what to say to that, but his fingertips slide up to rest on her lower back and he tries to tell himself the light squeeze he gives her is strictly for her comfort and not his own. Truth be told, though, it's been a good long time since anyone's hugged Daryl Dixon, and he'd forgotten exactly what it felt like.

A few long moments pass before she pulls back to look at him again. Her hand tentatively moves to his cheek, and she gently touches the band-aid on his forehead as she takes in the silent grief etched upon his face. He's quick to tense up under her scrutiny - his arms drop away from her like he's burned them on a hot stove, and the rest of him abruptly shies away from her touch.

This is exactly why he had wandered off to be alone. He doesn't want her or the others to see this part of him, doesn't want to acknowledge it exists to begin with, and he most certainly doesn't need anyone to gloss over the fact the he failed that little girl like she was obviously trying to do right now.

There's a constant pounding in the back of his head telling him that he didn't search hard enough or fast enough or long enough. He should have worked harder at tracking Sophia's trail, he should have stayed out all night looking for her, and he should have truly known there were worse things than poison oak hiding in the backwoods of Georgia now.

He feels like an asshole for spewing optimism and false hope to everyone just because he was trying to atone for his own shitty childhood. He's mourning the loss of Sophia like the rest of them, but maybe deep down he's mourning a part of himself too – the part that was beginning to feel useful and needed and worth a damn to these people.

He takes a couple steps back and there's a brief flash of hurt on her face at his hasty withdrawal.

It dawns on him suddenly just how close to home this has hit for her as well. Didn't Carol say she was praying Sophia wouldn't turn out like Amy? Wasn't that what they were all hoping for? Would it have been better to just find proof of her death in those woods than to see her as a walker, see her as a threat, see her get her brains blown out while they all watched? Would it have been better if she was just never found?

Maybe Andrea needs him to know this wasn't his fault like she needs to know Amy's death wasn't her fault.

Her body language is screaming with exasperation and heartache, but she turns to leave then, seemingly accepting of his rejection and urge to be alone. He finds himself cursing under his breath and catches her arm before she gets too far.

She turns back to him, watching again with those sad green eyes that won't quit seeing him, and he swallows hard as he tries to find his voice.

"Thanks," he mumbles quietly, awkwardly, releasing his grip and lowering his head in an almost shy manner. "For checkin' up on me."

She manages to give him a small smile that shows just enough understanding, and for the first time there's a mutual awareness that passes between the two.

"You pull that arrow outta your ass, or you got a whole stash you're plannin' on using every time ya want something?" he asks to lighten the mood, or maybe to act as a sort-of apology.

She shrugs, but he detects the hint of a smirk playing on her lips. "Guess you'll just have to find out."

His eyes follow her as she walks away, and Daryl finds himself alone and invisible once again.