Title: Man's Best Friend
Disclaimer: Very much not mine.
Summary: "Don't baby talk him," Daryl groans. "He's a mutt, not some pedigree poodle or some shit. He's lived in the woods. He's tough."
Note: From a prompt by cemeterydreamer at the Daryl/Andrea LJ: "Post 2.07 - Daryl finds and "adopts" a stray dog sometime after the group leaves the farm. The only problem is, the dog seems to have taken a strange liking to Andrea... and it may not be the only one"
Sometimes, since the shitstorm that had been the farm and Sophia and the barn full of walkers, Daryl just can't take it anymore.
The milling around, the bullshit small talk, the whining about relationships and leadership and tactics – he can't take it, and he only sort of cares if the rest of the camp understands that or not.
It's for this reason that, when the caravan pulls to a stop in an attempt to find gas and food in the few cars abandoned along the side of a back road, he grows antsy. After approximately three minutes of pacing around by his truck, he decides he's had enough.
"I'll be back," he announces to no one in particular, shouldering his crossbow.
From about 10 feet away, Andrea looks over at him and furrows her brows. "You want some company?"
He shakes his head. "Nah. I'll be all right."
"Okay." She bites at her bottom lip. "Be careful."
He rolls his eyes and stalks off into the woods.
He walks through the woods for a while, feeling more at ease. He picks up and loses the trail of a deer, watches for signs of squirrels or rabbits, but ends up with only a sack full of small, though edible, berries.
He's just starting to move back toward the road when he hears it – the rustling of leaves and snapping of twigs that signals the presence of someone or something in the vicinity. Immediately, he readies the crossbow, waiting silently for the unknown predator to make itself known.
It's not a walker, that much he can tell. The leaves in a nearby bush shake, and he aims his weapon, waiting for a squirrel or rabbit to come out and end up as that night's dinner.
What emerges instead, though, is a medium-sized dog, its shaggy, brownish fur matted and dirty as if he'd been wandering through the woods for some time. Upon seeing Daryl, the dog immediately crouches down, tail going between his legs.
Daryl eyes the dog and notes that he's got a blue nylon collar around his neck, complete with a metal identifier tag, and is dragging a matching leash behind him. Probably, he thinks, the dog was someone's pet that managed to escape when the unfortunate owners did not.
"Hey, buddy," he says quietly. He shoulders the crossbow and squats, stretching out an arm. He whistles softly. "C'mere, boy. It's okay. Come on."
With some gently coaxing, the dog slowly walks over, his dark eyes sad and watchful and his stance wary. Daryl keeps his arm still as the dog cautiously sniffs at his hand, not wanting to frighten the animal any further.
Finally, the dog licks at his skin, and Daryl allows him to for a few moments before gently petting his head and scratching behind his ear. The dog lets out a little whine and presses up against his hand, seeking comfort.
"Hey, it's all right," Daryl soothes. "You're a good boy."
He pets the animal's head with one hand and seeks out the metal tag on the collar with the other. Josh and Lisa Harrison from Atlanta, it seems, were the dog's owners.
He flips the tag over. "Ozzy, huh? That your name?" The dog licks his hand and wags his tail, and Daryl smiles at him. "You like Sabbath, Ozzy?"
Andrea had been checking the tree line every ten minutes, and she grins when she finally sees Daryl emerge, the dog happily trailing along at the end of the leash.
"Hey, who's that you've got there?" she calls, walking over to greet them.
Daryl jerks his thumb backward. "That's Ozzy. Found him wandering around out in the woods."
She crouches down and opens her arms, and the dog immediately runs up to her, planting his big paws on her shoulders and knocking her back against the ground.
"Whoa!" she says, laughing as she ruffles the dog's fur. He licks her face, and she squeals in delight.
"All right, buddy, come on," Daryl says, gently pulling him away from her. He reaches out a hand. "Sorry about that."
She lets him pull her to her feet, still giggling. "That's okay," she assures him. She bends down and pats the dog's head. "He's just happy to see people, probably."
"Yeah. I couldn't just leave him out there, you know?"
Andrea watches as he pats his leg, wanting Ozzy to jump up, and she can't help but notice the way his mood has lightened considerably since coming back with his new friend. It's like the storm clouds have broken and he's actually somewhat relaxed for the first time in a while.
Just the fact that he's chatting with her feels like a big deal, and she can't help but give him a wide smile.
"Of course not," she says. She strokes the dog's back. "Poor guy."
He looks beyond her at the group, seeing everyone moving about and packing things into their cars. "We moving out soon?"
"Yeah, in a few minutes, I think. We were able to get some gas and supplies from the cars," she tells him. "You catch anything out there? Other than our new friend?"
He shakes his head. "Some berries. That's about it." He looks down at the end of the leash. "Hey, are you a hunting dog, Ozzy? Maybe you could help me out next time."
The dog looks between him and Andrea, and she laughs. "Not this sweet guy," she says, putting on that voice that people reserve for babies and cute animals.
"Don't baby talk him," Daryl groans. "He's a mutt, not some pedigree poodle or some shit. He's lived in the woods. He's tough."
From over by the RV, Dale yells over to them. "Andrea! Daryl! We're moving out!"
"Okay!" she yells back. She holds her hand out to Daryl, silently asking him for the leash.
He hands it over, eyebrow quirked. "What, you're riding with us?"
"Yeah," she says, petting Ozzy's head again. "I want to hang out with this guy a little longer."
Daryl rolls his eyes and gestures over to his truck. "Come on, then."
They walk over and climb up into his pickup, slamming the doors shut behind them. Daryl turns the engine over and, waiting for the other vehicles before he shifts the truck into drive, glances over at Andrea and Ozzy. He groans at the sight.
The dog is stretched comfortably across her lap, his head facing the driver's seat. Already, his eyes are starting to drift shut as her hand strokes his soft, floppy ears.
"Tough guy my ass," she says. "Ozzy is no prince of darkness. He's a big mush."
Daryl grunts and pulls the truck behind the RV.
The drive is quiet for the most part, but it's not a bad kind of quiet, Andrea decides. Daryl's not slumped in the driver's seat, not staring sullenly out the window or scowling when she attempts to make conversation.
They talk, or they don't, but the vibe in the cab of his truck is calm and friendly. Ozzy remains asleep on her lap, snoring lightly, and Daryl keeps blindly reaching over to rub his snout or scratch behind his ears.
Once, he misjudges the location of Ozzy's head and accidentally gropes Andrea's thigh. As if burned, he retracts his hand quickly once he realizes what he's done.
"Sorry," he mumbles, his face pink.
She grins out the window. "It's okay."
They stop in the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall, a long, old brick building that housed what used to be a consignment store, a hair salon, a sandwich shop and a pharmacy. Before getting too comfortable, the group splits up and moves through each of the stores, carefully searching for anyone alive or undead and finding no one.
"No walkers. Didn't have time to really look, but the shops don't look like they've been picked clean." Rick shrugs. "Maybe no one's made it out this way yet?"
"Well, whatever the reason, it's getting dark fast," Daryl says. His eyes dart around, wary, and he grips the leash tightly. "I say we set up camp for the night, then start going through this place and see what we can use come daylight."
Andrea nods her agreement. "I don't think we should spend longer than a couple of nights here. Just because no one's come around yet doesn't mean they won't."
They scatter to the vehicles, then, pulling out tents and whatever food they've got left to set up for the night. Shane and T-Dog agree to man the perimeter, watching the nearby woods for signs of walkers and other unfriendlies.
Daryl takes Ozzy for a walk, keeping his eyes peeled the entire time, before wandering back over to join the others. Someone's dragged over a metal garbage can and started a small fire, and for a second, it feels a little bit like another time, like they're tailgating before a big football game.
Ozzy immediately pulls him over to where Andrea's sitting cross-legged on a blanket, wagging his tail happily when she reaches over and scratches behind his ears.
"Sit," she commands.
Daryl hesitates a moment. "Him or me?"
"Both," she laughs.
He takes a seat, stretching his legs out next to her. "C'mere, buddy," he says to Ozzy, stroking his shaggy fur. The dog lies on the ground in the space between Daryl and Andrea, tail thumping against her leg.
"Have you eaten?" she asks. "Either of you?"
Daryl shakes his head. "Wonder when the last time it was that he had anything."
She hands him her half-eaten can of beans and digs a few strips of squirrel jerky out of her bag for Ozzy. They both dig in hungrily.
"Tomorrow, when it's light and we can start scavenging, maybe we'll find some dog food for you, Oz," she says, smiling as the dog chews the dried meat.
Daryl offers her the can back, but she waves him off. "I'm good. Hopefully we'll find some decent human food, too."
He smirks. "What's the matter, girl? You're tired of eating beans and jerky day in and day out?"
"Ugh." She pulls a face. "If all we found in that store was cans of Alpo, I'd gladly eat it instead of that jerky. No offense."
He snorts, and she laughs. "You hear that, buddy?" He pokes the dog's hind leg. "You're going to have to fight her for it."
The camp makes it through the night without any trouble, so the next day they all split up again, planning to go through each of the stores to find anything they can make use of.
In the consignment store, Andrea combs through the racks and shelves with the help of Maggie and Glenn. A lack of proper clothing had started to become almost as big an issue for the group as finding food and shelter, particularly with the weather beginning to change.
They end up finding a lot they can use, the beauty of a good consignment shop showing itself when they're able to find heavy coats to fit each member of the group. They go through piles of pants and shirts and sweaters as well, even finding some baby clothes for Lori and a number of old, handmade quilts, folding the useful garments up and placing them into shopping bags scrounged from behind the counter.
In the pharmacy, Daryl takes it upon himself, after they've boxed up most everything else they can find, to grab what's left of the dog care aisle. He hauls the majority of it out and loads it into the back of his truck, securing it with a tarp.
Ozzy, being watched after by Carl, wags his tail when he sees Daryl walk over waving a Milk-Bone.
"Thanks for your help, little man," Daryl tells Carl. "Come on, Oz." He tosses the biscuit to the dog, who catches it mid-air with a loud crunch.
He'd snagged a set of small plastic bowls in the store and places the pair on the ground, filling one with dry dog food and the other with bottled water. He then stands back to watch with a grin as Ozzy practically attacks the food and gobbles it down in less than a minute.
Out of pity, he refills the food bowl.
"Just this once," he says, watching the dog eat the second helping just as quickly. "Don't want you getting fat, now."
Andrea comes to stand beside him as Ozzy finishes his meal, gulping at the water. "He looks happy."
Daryl nods. "Must've been starving." He pats his leg and calls for the dog. "Here, boy. Got something else for you."
He pulls a thick rubber bone from his pocket and waggles it at Ozzy, who immediately starts whining and barking at his feet. Andrea laughs as the dog jumps, trying to snatch it away.
Daryl tosses the bone a few feet away. Immediately, Ozzy bounds after it, then runs back to them. "Looks like he knows how to fetch." He tosses the toy again, a bit farther this time.
"You're good with him," she observes. "Have you ever had a dog?"
He nods. "Yeah. Rusty," he says wistfully. "Big old mutt I had growing up. Good watch dog. He died when I was about 17." He looks down at his shoes, toeing at the asphalt. "I still miss that dog," he admits.
Andrea watches him, tears pricking at her eyes. "I had a golden retriever. Sandy. She died when I was in college." She wipes at her face. "I miss her, too."
Daryl sighs, and bends to take the bone from Ozzy's mouth, tossing it so he can fetch it again. "He's a pretty good dog."
She knocks her shoulder into his. "It's a lucky thing you found each other." Off his look, she continues. "You seem a lot better since you brought him back."
Daryl looks down at his feet again. "Gives me something else to do, you know?"
She nods. "I get it."
They're quiet for a few minutes, watching Ozzy play, before he speaks again. "You know, I might've brought you something, too."
She gives him a sideways glance. "Is it a can of Alpo?"
"Am I going to have to fetch it?" she teases.
He shrugs, a crooked smile on his face. "No. Maybe just beg a little."
Andrea rolls her eyes, but goes along with it. "Oh, please, Daryl?" she mock begs. She gets closer, their chests almost touching. "Pretty please?"
He looks down at her through his eyelashes, holding his breath at her nearness. Their eyes meet when she looks up, pale green and blue locking on each other, and for a few moments, they just stand there, frozen.
He snaps out of it, though, and reaches blindly into his pocket, pulling out a Snickers bar.
"Good girl," he says quietly.
With a wide grin, she snatches it from his hand and backs away. "Oh, you are the best," she says, ripping the plastic open. She breaks the candy bar in half and offers it to him.
"I'm good," he says. "Had something inside."
On impulse, she stretches up to kiss his cheek. "Thanks."
His face turns pink, and he watches her savor the chocolate a moment while he composes himself. "So… Did y'all have any luck in the consignment shop?"
"Mmm hmm," she says around a mouthful of chocolate and peanut. "We found a lot of good stuff. Even got everyone a coat."
She nods, a flirty smile gracing her lips. "You'll look dashing in blue wool."
Later that night, after everyone's had a somewhat decent dinner of Ramen noodles and canned vegetables, they retire to their tents to get a good night's sleep before heading out in the morning. Rick and Dale volunteer to take watch for the night, so Daryl takes Ozzy for a walk instead.
When he unzips his tent, though, Ozzy's clearly got other plans, trotting away in the opposite direction.
"Hey! Where're you going?"
Ozzy looks behind at his new owner, wags his tail, and proceeds to walk right through the open entrance of Andrea's tent. Daryl hears her shout of joy and shakes his head before going to retrieve his dog.
He pokes his head inside the tent to find Andrea sitting on her sleeping bag, enthusiastically petting Ozzy's head and rubbing his ears. The dog's tail wags a mile a minute, and she laughs as he tries to lick her face.
"Sorry," Daryl says. "He just up and walked away from me."
She grins up at him and laughs. "Are you kidding? I love him. We're buddies, aren't we?" she murmurs. The dog licks her nose, and she giggles. "Hey, do you want to sleep with me tonight?"
She looks expectantly up at Daryl, and he just stares at her for a moment. His whole body is still, and he looks freaked out and turned on at the same time. "What?"
"Ozzy," she says. "Do you mind if he stays in my tent tonight? It's getting cold. I could use a warm body next to me."
He almost chokes. "No. Yeah. Uh, it's fine," he sputters.
She grins up at him. "Daryl? What did you think I was talking about?"
"Nothing," he mumbles. He almost trips over his own feet backing out of her tent. "Uh, I'll just see you guys tomorrow."
Andrea gets up to zip her tent shut and sinks down next to Ozzy again. She presses a kiss to his furry head and hugs him close.
"I think Daryl likes me," she tells the dog. "What are we going to do about that? Huh?"
She slips into his tent after a while and zips the flap shut behind her.
Not wanting to startle him or wake anyone else, she whisper-shouts, "Daryl!"
Almost immediately, he jolts awake, eyes searching in the darkness. "What's going on?"
"Shh. It's just me. It's Andrea."
"What's wrong?" he mumbles. He rubs tiredly at his eyes and reaches a hand out, looking for his knife.
She lowers herself to the floor beside him and puts a hand on his arm. "Nothing. I didn't mean to scare you," she says. "I just… Did you know Ozzy's a little bit of a bed hog? And that he snores really loud sometimes?"
"Yeah," he mumbles. "Steals the blankets, too. Where is he?"
"Stretched out in the cab of your truck. Don't worry, the windows are cracked open."
"Oh," he says. He blinks at her in the darkness. "You came in here to tell me that?"
"No. I told you." She scoots a little closer. "It's cold."
"Oh." Suddenly, he's wide awake. He sits up straighter and gathers his blankets around his hips.
She sighs. "Daryl. Kiss me."
He clears his throat, busying his fingers with a thread on his quilt. "I was getting to that."
"Don't make me beg," she teases.
Daryl snorts and shakes his head before reaching a hand out to grab the back of her neck. He pulls her close, angling his mouth over hers, and kisses her for all he's worth. Immediately, she presses herself closer, winding her arms around his neck.
He pulls her onto his lap, placing her knees on either side of his hips, and groans when she grinds down against him. She pushes her tongue past his teeth and explores the inside of his mouth.
Daryl breaks away for a moment, trying to catch his breath. "I think you just want me for my dog," he says. He kisses along her jawline.
Andrea giggles. "Of course not," she says. She reaches a hand down between them and into his pants. "I want you for so much more than that."