The minute he hears the gunshot, Daryl is on his motorcycle and ignoring Rick and Carol's calls.
Several birds fly off into the sky in a certain spot over the woods, and he keeps one eye on the road, one focusing on a tree that extends higher than the rest, the birds still flying away from it. The area is much further out than he originally assumed, well away from the farm and way past the place where they're camped out now, but he finally finds it, or thinks he might have. It's a long shot, but he makes the call and leaves the rest up to the man upstairs.
He leaves his motorcycle on the road and runs into the woods, knife in hand and scanning the ground for hints of anything. There are no tracks, not human anyway, but he runs without turning back. He just can't.
There's nothing but the sound of his voice echoing into the distance and his labored breathing. He keeps running, nearly damn tripping over a fatass walker but he takes it out quickly.
On the back of his mind he knows making too much noise might get him killed, but the adrenaline rush that takes over erases all thought. There's alarm bells, however, because the last time this happened it didn't end well. Rick's voice resonates in the distance, it's too dangerous, no use risking ourselves like this anymore. We can't afford another Sophia situation.
But he can't go back. How could he, if there's a chance?
He finally hears it. It's faint and it's possible that he hears it because he wants to hear it, because he still stays up awake sometimes, thinking about Sophia and all the things he should've done while searching for her, all the regrets he still harbors. Should've started on this area, should've stayed up the first night, should've let the group stay behind that very first day because in the end they ended up slowing him down. Should've, should've, should've.
He can't let this one down, too.
But it's there and it's faint and when he hears, "Daryl!" he stops running and turns into the direction of the voice. He starts to run again, further out west still.
One more walker. He takes it out with his knife. For a while there's nothing except more running and he starts to feel angry at himself, angry for fooling himself into thinking it would be different this time.
Until he hears her call out his name again. She's much closer now, and he speeds up, shouting for her once more and each time she's so much closer. He can feel it and the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
He'll find her. He can find her.
"Where are you?" Andrea cries out.
He runs and she runs and eventually he can hear her labored breathing. He's whisking past trees and shrubs and when he spots a golden flash he stops, waving at her, "HEY!"
When she finally sees him Daryl hopes never to see that look on her face again. She's scared, petrified, and all alone. If it wasn't for the pony tail and her voice he wouldn't have recognized her, probably would've taken her for a walker and shot her right there. Her skin and clothes are covered in blood, dirt, and grime, her hair brown from all the leaves and dirt it's collected.
When she sees him, the stress and trauma of the last two day dissolves, her adrenaline finally comes to an exhaust, and he runs up to meet her because she looks like she's about to collapse from the exhaustion. When he's just a couple of feet away she stumbles into his arms and nearly knocks him down.
"Jesus, Jesus," Daryl mutters over and over again, holding her up and he can't blame her when a sob escapes her. He pulls back and frames her face with his hands, looking at her. His blood is rushing everywhere. Is this really happening? How is it possible? "Are you alright? Are you alright?"
She nods and takes a deep breath, forcing the tears to stop.
"Are you hurt?"
"No," she moans.
"Are ya sure?" He tries to make sure himself, because he's not sure what her state of mind is right now and she's covered head to toes in blood. But despite her appearance and the dark circles under her eyes she seems relatively okay for someone who just spent nearly 36 hours by herself in the woods, being changed by walkers.
"Fuck," he utters when the reality of it hits him. How the fuck is she alive? How many hundreds of walkers had remained in the farm as he sped away? Didn't T-Dog say she went down? Fuck. His mind is into overdrive and he knows he needs to take her back before she collapses right here. So he grabs her hand and starts to lead her away, but she pulls him back.
He looks at her, confused. Has she lost her damn mind? "Come on, I'm taking you back."
"No, we can't leave her."
He frowns. For a moment he thinks she's talking about Amy. She looks like death incarnate and seems to be in an alarmed state of mind. It's also possible that she's hit her head somewhere along the way and her mind is not right. He doesn't know what to do then. If she thinks Amy is alive, there's no way she's leaving.
He starts thinking he should whack her over the head and carry her back when he realizes someone is approaching them. He grabs Andrea and steps in front of her, knife in hand and ready to use.
A dark figure emerges from the trees, alive or undead, he doesn't know. It's too dirty and covered in grime like Andrea, but it's dragging two walkers by a chain. "The hell," he mutters before he takes stronger hold of the knife and starts to move forward.
"Wait, no." Andrea steps in front of him and pushes him back, and when he looks at her again he knows she probably did lose her mind. "She's alright. She saved my life."
Daryl looks up again. It's a woman, as far as he can tell. She's carrying the ammo bag and Jesus – leave it to Andrea to save the guns, he thinks quickly – before his mind spins again he watches the two walkers. For some reason they're not attacking her. But when they see Daryl they begin to advance. He gets ready to strike.
But she yields a sword and taps each one of them back and the walkers stay, like fucking trained dogs.
"The hell are you?" he says, eyes narrowed.
She takes a few steps closer. "You might wanna be a little nicer to someone who just saved your girlfriend from being human chow."
Daryl frowns. Yeah, alright. Little attitude there. No biggie. Nothing he hasn't dealt with in the south before. But he stays on full alert.
"You to take her back, too," Andrea says. He looks down at her, all but forgotten she was even there, but her tired eyes are pleading and he knows Andrea is stubborn as a mule and if need be, she'll stay behind if it means getting her way. Damn woman.
"Alright," he says because whatever. He just needs to take Andrea back to Hershel. Rick can deal with this... whatever this circus act is. He puts his knife away. "You're welcomed to join us. Your poodles ain't."
Her face doesn't move much, and she only seems to consider it for two seconds before she swings around and cuts her pets' heads off in one clean motion.
What. The fuck is going on. Maybe he's the one who's gone mad? He watches as she takes a moment, looking at her walking bitches like she's saying goodbye to them. Daryl looks at Andrea, searching for answers, but she's looking at the other woman and she's too tired to even make a facial expression.
The woman joins them then, giving Daryl the gun bag and grabbing Andrea. He frowns and shoots towards them. "Hey!"
"I got her."
They continue walking, Andrea hobbling along, but the woman keeps her standing. Daryl frowns, scratches the back of his head. He needs to get pissed drunk.
The motorcycle is a tight fit, with Andrea sitting closely behind him and this new character behind Andrea. He doesn't even get the chance to kill the engine before the entire camp is surrounding them, crying and someone keeps saying, "oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," over and over (he thinks it's Glenn.)
Rick calls for Hershel, Carol throws herself at Andrea, filled with remorse and regrets, and Daryl has to push everyone away because even though Andrea is smiling faintly and enjoying seeing the group again, they're practically on top of her.
"Alright, everybody stay back," Rick says and Carol is crying. Everyone takes one step back except Daryl and Rick comes closer to Andrea, putting a hand on the side of her face. Daryl watches him, knowing he's filled with guilt about leaving her behind, but some kind of flicker of pride in his eyes, too. "Are you alright?" he asks sharply, like Andrea is deaf or something or doesn't speak the language.
She looks at him and once again Daryl doesn't know what her expression is. How many of them really know Andrea? Just when you think she's gonna say something she says something else, and when they think she's too weak or a lost cause, she goes and does something like this.
She just nods, Daryl doesn't know if she's too tired or if she's pissed and too tired to show it. Hershel shows up, mutters some scripture and asks him to help her move her to his tent.
"We got ourselves a new guest," Daryl says as he swings Andrea's arm around his neck and Hershel holds her from the other side. "Imma let you deal with that."
Rick and Michonne turn to each other, the group eying her careful, but he misses the rest. They sit Andrea on the old man's cot and the minute they do her head falls forward. Hershel doesn't have much in terms of equipment anymore, a stethoscope and his knowledge, essentially. He removes Andrea's vest and she's only wearing a thin shirt and Daryl wonders how she didn't freeze to death but, right, she's been too busy fighting to stay alive.
"You're dehydrated," Hershel tells her slowly, Daryl doesn't know if she hears it, but he moves towards the entrance of the tent.
"Imma get her some water."
He comes back and Hershel has taken her blouse off and she's down to a worn out tank top. She can barely gather the energy to lift the bottle of water to her mouth but when she does it's like she's never seen water before. Hershel cautions her against drinking too much all at once but Andrea's body is just too desperate for the hydration and she nearly chokes.
Daryl kneels in front of her and takes the bottle, places it aside. She coughs weakly but the water seems to bring out a bit more energy out of her. And she finally lifts her head and looks at Daryl with so much uncertainty in her eyes that damn, he actually feels it in his stomach.
"Did we lose anyone?"
He shakes his head. "Don't go worrying about that right now."
Hershel pokes at a sensitive spot on her side and she flinches, but looks at him again. "Where's—" she doesn't finish because the minute the word comes out, he knows and she knows. Daryl's expecting the worst, but she merely looks out the tent and utters. "Oh."
He doesn't say anything, really. He doesn't know what her relationship with Shane was, doesn't know what happened that they in the burbs, that's her private business. Truth be told, for the first time since he met Shane, Daryl actually feels grateful to the man because if he hadn't trained Andrea so intensely she'd most likely be dead right now.
"Glenn is okay?"
"Yeah, you just saw him."
"Don't think about that right now," Daryl tells her, but he wonders if she's even listening.
"We can't go back to the farm, it's overrun," she says and Hershel clears his throat next to her, still emotional over the loss of his property. "I saw... I saw..."
"Hey, you don't have to worry about that," Daryl repeats, though this time the words come out harsher. "Waste of time."
She's looking at his shoulder and he doesn't think of what else to do but for some reason he starts untying her shoelaces. Her boots are worn out and full of walker blood and gunk. She flinches when he pulls on the lace and he jumps back.
"Careful," she tells him.
Daryl looks at her. "It hurts?"
He berates himself instantly. Of course it hurts. She managed to cover more miles inland while running than they did in their cars. So he makes sure the shoelaces are lose all the way to the bottom before he starts pulling her boot off. She flinches again and he continues slower, until it's gone along with a moan from her. The sock is much easier and when it finally comes off even she lets out a wince at the sight.
Her feet are swollen, full of cuts, bruises, and blisters. They continue to swell even more now that they're no longer confined inside her boots and Daryl grimaces. "Jesus," he mutters.
Hershel looks down. "Hmm. We don't have any antiseptics."
Daryl examines it closer and looks at Andrea. "How long were you running for?"
She speaks to him but her eyes are on her feet and she looks pissed more than anything. Tired and pissed. "Since you left. I think. Not a lot of running towards the end, til I heard you."
"Fuck," he utters again. They've been gone for almost two days. "Did you find a good place to hide? Did you get any rest?"
Andrea shakes her head. "They were everywhere. Ten to thirty at one given time."
Daryl remembers the herd. He remembers more of them walking towards the farm just as he was driving away from it. It was bad enough trying to get away from them in his motorcycle, he can't imagine what it must've been like on foot and for almost two days.
"Someone needs to take care of her, too," Andrea tells him and he's not sure what to make of that now. Girl had to go and get herself some Stockholm Syndrome or something. "We've been fighting them all night."
"Yeah," he says noncommittally and knows he's not gonna do shit about that. Rick wants a dictatorship, he's gonna have to take care of shit like strangers.
Carol shows up with two buckets of water from the nearest stream and as she uses one to dip a rag into it and starts to clean Andrea's face, Daryl uses the other to pour water over her feet to better assess the damage.
The moment it meets her skin and she jumps and winces in pain. "Sorry," he looks at her quickly and returns his attention to her feet. The water is washing the blood away and when it's all gone he winces. Her skin is basically torn to shreds in several places and when she complains about her toe hurting he looks closer and can tell that it's broken.
She's not gonna be able to walk for a while. This is fucked up. Fucked up.
Rick shows up at the tent flap, still visibly guilty and Daryl meets him outside as Hershel examines Andrea's feet.
"How is she?"
"She'll live. Hell she made it this far," Daryl says. "Her feet are all fucked up, though, she ain't gonna be able to walk til they mend and we don't got any meds."
Rick clenches his jaw and Daryl knows what that means. This is going to slow them down. "I'll send Glenn and Maggie back to the highway tomorrow, see what they can find." Hershel's gonna have a fit but he doesn't care. Glenn and Maggie have been to the highway on several occasions already and along with all the supplies Shane was hoarding in the trunk of his car, they have enough to set up a small camp. Best thing about the end of the world is every car is equipped with tents and sleeping bags. But they still have very little food and no medical supplies.
Daryl looks around and sees their new companion in the distance. She sits away from the others, seemingly in her own world. He can feel the tension in the camp. "You get anything from Beatrix Kiddo over there?"
"Not much," Rick utters. "But I think she's alright. She can fight, she says. With Andrea down we're gonna need someone to step up. I've got everyone keeping an eye on her, just in case."
Inside, Andrea winces again and both men look in. Carol lifts her tank top and there's a nasty bruise on her side. From a bad fall, she explains.
It makes him angry. If he knew, if he knew she was left behind, he would've gone back for her, pile her on behind Carol. But no one knew, no one accounted for her. Dale would've, Daryl thinks. Dale would've gone back to that hell and died trying to save his little girl. But Dale isn't here anymore, and now she's all alone with no one to look out for her.
He feels a pang of pity, especially seeing her there all shrunken, and he wonders if this is what Carol feels when she looks at him. He wonder if this is how Dale felt when he looked at Andrea. The old man had taken her in and nurtured her and she'd get pissy with him but at the end of the day he saved her.
It makes sense now, what Carol "wants" and Daryl just wants to make things right for Andrea in the same way. She went through this hell trying to protect her family, and now her family is broken, turning against each other and hopeless.
"This happened to her cos she was trying to protect us," he says and he feels Rick tense even more beside him. "Your wife. Carol."
"We ain't leaving anyone behind again," he adds, with more conviction than he thought he could muster. "It ain't right."
Rick looks at him and Daryl doesn't know what's going to happen or what he'll say, but ultimately Rick acknowledges him with a nod. He does the same and it's the first agreement they come to as leaders. It makes him feel a flicker of pride and strength.
Not really a feeling he's experienced before.
Ultimately all they can do about Andrea's feet is keep them wrapped and clean because all the medication was left back at the farm and the first aid kit in the RV. Hershel finishes the examination and though Andrea is dehydrated and undernourished the old man feels confident she'll recuperate.
Carol thanks God over and over again and it's strange to Daryl that he hears more about God these days than he ever did before. It does seem a little miraculous, but as he looks at Andrea, a little cleaner now but still a grimy mess he thinks God is taking too much of her credit for this.
He's careful when he lifts her, with her protesting that she can walk but he's sure as hell not going to let her push back that recovery. Rick is right, they need her out there in the trenches as soon as possible.
"You can sleep in my bag tonight," he tells her as he begins to make his way to his tent.
"I can't take your bed."
"S' alright, I'm goin' hunting," Daryl says. "Get you some meat on those bones, girl."
She sort of smiles at this and he smiles, too. She's already looking like the old Andrea and he knows at that moment she'll be alright. He's careful to lay her on his sleeping bag and Carol comes over and tucks her in. She goes back out for some blankets, whatever clothes they have lying around to cover Andrea with.
He's gathering his gear and counting how many arrows he has left when she whispers next to him.
"Thank you, Daryl."
It's the strangest thing she could ever say to him, and it catches him off guard. "Hey, ya got out of this one yourself. You and Thelma over there. Thank that goddamn stubbornness of yours."
She smiles again and shakes her head. "I just tried to stay alive. You found me."
Something about those last three words carry so much punch that he feels it in his stomach. He remembers all those long days in the woods looking for Sophia, each day less sure, but more insistent, slowly going crazy and desperate. Sophia is still gone, but they've got Andrea back and it not much, considering their current situation, stuck in the middle of nowhere with no food, but it's something. And hell, if she could make it out there on her own, who's to say they can't make it, here?
He shrugs his shoulders and when he turns to her to reply she's already asleep.
When he comes back that night she's still sleeping and he knows she's probably gonna sleep for days. Her hair is yellow again and her skin is cleaner and he knows Carol's been here taking care of her. He thinks about waking her up to get her something in her stomach but she probably needs the rest more than the food.
Carol comes over and brings him a plate, and damn, the minute he looks at it he misses the farm. Plain squirrel meat ain't right, no matter how many years he's been eating it. But he does, cause there's no other choice.
Carol sits by him, her eyes on the tent. "She did good."
"Badass," Daryl says absentmindedly.
She sits there quietly as he continues to eat and the sound of the others walking around the camp with a fire roaring takes him back to Atlanta. Only this is worse than Atlanta because they don't have many clothes, they don't have food or the RV. They don't have all their extra tents, just a few knick knacks and a world of uncertainty in front of them.
"She did this to herself to save me," Carol says reflectively. "And she stayed alive to find us."
Daryl doesn't know what to reply because really, it's been too much today. Between the farm and their situation and Andrea he feels as if the life has been drained out of him. So he says nothing, knowing eventually the guilt will probably subside and hell, he's sure Andrea isn't gonna fault her for nothing. Andrea's good people.
Carol suddenly rises and he's glad. He can't think anymore, just needs to get some sleep and hope tomorrow will be a better day. "I wasn't lying yesterday, Daryl," Carol says before she walks away. "You do deserve better."
He doesn't move because he's done trying to decipher that little riddle. He thought about it all day yesterday and now she's presenting it to him again and he doesn't know anymore. He doesn't care, truthfully. He finishes his meal and puts the plate aside, knowing they'll need to reuse them.
He crawls into his tent because no, he's too tired to sleep out on the grass. The temperature has dropped. Everyone's shivering but he still feels comfortable, trained to sustain the low temperatures all these years he's spent out in the woods. He lays next to her, bunches his jacket under his head and closes his eyes.
Sleep doesn't come as quickly. The graveness of their situation still weighs heavily in his mind. Tomorrow they'll have to move. Either back towards the highway, see what they can find there, get some gas, maybe some new vehicles. Just wipe the place clean like they should've done from the beginning and then who knows. He'll look for a van, something large Andrea can rest comfortably in, and the others are gonna sneer, but they're gonna have to snag all those dead people's clothes. Winter is coming soon and God knows where they'll be then (if they'll be anywhere at all).
He knows Rick is awake right now as well, thinking the same thing, and worrying just the same. At least Daryl doesn't have to take on the responsibility of a child or a pregnant woman. He decides he's gonna give Rick some more leeway and a few more days to de-stress. The group needs Rick here and Daryl will willingly take on a few more of his responsibilities if that's what it takes. He'll also have to talk to them about their attitude.
Christ. A few months ago his biggest worry was how many squirrels he could catch. If Merle saw him now, leading this group of knuckleheads, he'd slap him across the back of the head.
Andrea whimpers in her sleep and he worries she's gonna start having a nightmare. He should've given her something from Merle's stash to help her sleep better but he doesn't know now what Dale did with it. Damn. He should've gotten it back. But it's not a nightmare, she's just cold and shivers in her sleep. He doesn't have any more blankets, so he grabs his jacket from under his head and covers her with it.
Now he has to use his arm as a pillow and he shifts to his side. She frowns in her sleep and twitches a bit. Maybe she is having a nightmare after all. He hopes the events of the last two days haven't traumatized her too much. If she was Lori he knows she'd be a wreck right now but he gets the feeling this is going to end up making her stronger because that's the type of person she is. She's not Lori