Rated for language. I disclaim any rights to the characters, quotes, etc. that are already copyrighted by others.

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A/N: I've been inspired to write more for TWD, because frankly, there aren't enough Daryl and Andrea fics coming out of the woodwork, so I thought this may encourage others to write. Plus the readers are awesome.

This kept replaying in my head ever since I saw gifs of that one particular scene where Shane was once again going off his rocker in Pretty Much Dead Already. This time he had some cause to be, since there was a barn full of walkers, however he should definitely have not talked down to Daryl as if he was better than him.

And also, because I hated that particular scene, what if it was Daryl that Andrea decided to release all that pent up adrenaline on?

This is unrelated to Karma Point Redemption in case anyone was wondering if it was a prequel. I considered it, but no, this stands alone.

Happy reading,

Charmed

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Puzzle Pieces

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Pure adrenaline got him through pulling the bolt from his body, and it was his annoyance and anger of that damn conversation with Merle followed by the footwear-gnawing walker, that let him aim and aim well. It was with great satisfaction that he sunk it right into the geek's forehead.

Hacking off the ears of these particular annoyances, he wore them on his neck.

His side exploded with pain, the adrenaline wearing off the moment he reached the top of the ledge where he'd fallen. Now, in that particular moment as he tentatively shot to his feet, he was highly aware that he'd pulled the bolt in the wrong direction.

Limping to the farmhouse, he muttered darkly, preferring one-side of his body to take off some of the pain.

"Is that Daryl?" He heard.

Seeing his boys running towards him, gun in hand, he couldn't help but call out to Rick gruffly, "It's about time you pointed that thing at my head. You goin' to pull the trigger or what?"

He watches them sag with relief as he panted heavy breaths. The look on their faces when he muttered actual coherent words was enough for him. They were relieved he wasn't some mindless walker. He didn't do heart to hearts, that was really all the confirmation he needed.

And then a shot rang out.

His body jerks, utterly exhausted from the impact and the sound, sending him crashing to the ground.

"No!" Rick screams out, over and over protesting.

Too loud. The ringing right by his pounding head made him dizzy.

"I was kidding!" He told them, because seriously, what the hell.

Being supported by Shane and Rick, he vaguely heard Glenn muttering about ears, before realizing it wasn't worth the migraine.

.

Leaning on his good side, he allowed Herschel to make quick work of the stitches, talking to Rick to keep from dwelling on the fact he had an easy view of what was being done to him.

Daryl had no delusions of the skin healing back to what it had been before his wound, but after a while one scar was like any other scar.

"Any idea what happened to my horse?" Herschel asked casually, washing up.

"Yeah the one that almost killed me? Was smart, it would've left the country."

He gazed up at the ceiling as Herschel talked about their ability to survive, rolling his eyes. Herschel had no clue.

.

Laying in his tent one morning, poking holes through the screen with his arrow, he was still thinking about what Carol had said to him. Every bit as good as Rick and Shane. Every bit.

Wondering how good Shane really was, Daryl turned at the sound of a tentative, "Hey."

And in walked his favourite city slicker, golden hair partly down, a guilty sheepish look on her face clearly written. She chose to sit near him, handing him a book she said wasn't that great, sighing as he flipped through it.

"What, no pictures?" He drawled, allowing his amusement to fill his tone.

Oh, he'd forgiven her, but he was waiting for her to say the words.

"I'm so sorry," she told him. Hiding a smirk, he continued to stare at her. "I feel like shit."

"Yeah, you and me both." Drawing it out a little bit longer, he folded his arms behind him, tucking the book away.

"I don't expect you to forgive me, but if there's anything I can do..."

Watching her trail off, he stared her directly in the eye. "You were trying to protect the crew," he nodded, toying with the arrow. "We're good."

Tension eased off her shoulders, her eyes clear and vivid, the furrow of her brows relaxing enough to give him a smile before she slunk off.

"But hey," he called to her, seeing her turn. "Shoot me again, you best pray I'm dead."

She was still smiling when she turns to leave, and he finds himself relaxing before noticing she was still there, staring at him. He raised a brow at her.

"How'd you do it?" The blonde woman finally asked him.

Tilting his head towards the place she'd vacated, she came back inside, elaborating as she went. "Your aim is amazing." She admitted. "I heard what happened from Glenn, after Rick gave the full report. You fell down a cliff twice, and pierced your side with an arrow. Somehow you killed two walkers – one of which was killed by the arrow that impaled you."

"It's called motivation, Goldielocks." Daryl stated plainly. "Didn't wanna die, and a couple of geeks weren't gonna be the ones to kill me."

He recalls them traipsing through the woods together and the hanging walker they found that night. More than that, he recalls their conversation, and he hopes she does as well. It would be a waste to lose another arrow for a half-assed answer.

"The farm could be overrun with walkers in the morning, or something else could happen, we could all die." She pointed out to him.

Sighing, he peered at her with lazy eyes. "Goldie, for a lawyer, you sure aren't thinkin' with your head lately. We could've just as easily been wiped out in the old world, as we can this one. Car accident, earthquake, flooding, crazy ex-girlfriend of your brother's he still owes a shitload of money to, an axe-murderer, chupacabra, gunshot wound," he muttered eyeing her. "There's always gonna be something trying to kill ya. At least walkers are upfront about what they want."

She's quiet as she takes everything he says in.

"I reckon it's just as painful to be shoved into an oncoming train, as it is to get bit."

Andrea tilts her head, studying him, and he squirms a little at her curious gaze.

"Ain't you got somethin' to do?" He asked.

"Shane and Rick are teaching people how to shoot."

"Probably shouldn't be skipping a class you're clearly barely passing, Goldie."

"So teach me," Andrea says, her eyes widening when she realized what she said, before her mouth turns into a determined firm line.

"'M not a patient teacher, Goldielocks, and I handle my crossbow more than I do a gun," Daryl told her. "Sure you wanna learn from a redneck?"

Her shoulders are set as she meets his eyes. "I'll learn from you, Daryl Dixon, better than anyone else about how to survive."

Shrugging his shoulders, he nods to the book. "Suit yourself. But, 'cause you shot me, and cause I'm teachin' you, least you could do is suffer through that pictureless book with me."

A small smile blossoms on her face before she picks up the book and starts the chapter.

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She was a stunner, even in a shirt he's probably seen her wear a dozen or so times. But stunner or not, this city chick was driving him nuts.

"I just can't get it!" Andrea cried out frustratedly, trying to hit the target Daryl had set swinging from a tree arm. She walked over, pulling the same bolt she had fired moments before from the tree bark.

"It's a good thing we can reuse those," he muttered, catching her glare. "Look, you're getting too caught up with how annoyed you are to even focus on hitting the damn thing with what you're firing."

"Well what do you want me to do then?" Andrea snapped. "It's moving."

He looked at her, grabbed the crossbow from her white-knuckle grip, prying the arrow from her fist. Daryl set it up, hefting it, and taking aim, finger pushing on the trigger.

"Keep a calm freaking head," he told her, staring at her and the target he hit. "You'd think you'd know something about timing."

"What's that supposed to mean?" She asked, steam still coming from out of her ears though she forced herself to slowly loosen her limbs.

"You need time to come around, don't do well when you're being pressured," Daryl told her. "Probably why you have that look in your eye like you'd rather aim for my balls when I keep telling you to aim better. Part of good aim is the timing, Goldie. Especially a target you really wanna hit."

"Timing," she whispered, mouthing the word in a new light, continuing to peer at him like she believed.

"Timing," he agreed. "You've gotta want it. Up here," he pointed at his head, "As well as that beating spot in your chest."

When her shoulders relaxed, he nodded to the car. "Shane went to this lofty housing area to check and see if Sophia went that way – he didn't find anything. Rick wanted us to go back, at least see if we can scrounge anything up for the group. You up for it?"

She fires it, and while it's farther from the bulls eye than she'd like, it managed to hit the target. Her nod was quick.

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They drove through the area, choosing a local convenience store on a pretty empty street, instead of delving deeper into the smaller houses. It was counted as some sort of blessing that they wouldn't just be bringing back cream of corn. It was like a mini-Wal-Mart, really. She'd found tins of tuna and beans, powdered milk and instant coffee, sugar and tea.

When he turned back, he saw her just sitting there on her knees in the middle of a rundown kitchen. She looked at some of the other things, longing, knowing there was only so much they could take, and he frowned when he felt it bothering him.

"You want it?" Daryl eyed the tea she seemed to be gazing at. He'd never have figured her for being a tea-drinker. Figures.

Andrea shrugged her shoulders. "I want what it means."

"Didn't know dried herbs and shit meant anything but tea."

Her lips quirked just a bit. "Amy and I, we didn't like tea, but growing up, mom used to always make us drink this bitter cup of it. She swore it helped with some sort of illness; she was always trying to keep us healthy. It reminded us of tree bark every time we drank it; no one liked it, not even dad, she didn't either, but we'd all drink it together. It got easier after a while. Got used to it, I guess. Tea means home."

"Ain't got much use for a penthouse if your elevator ain't runnin'," he said, shifting on his feet. "But lookin' at you, you don't seem to be wantin' a penthouse anymore."

She shrugs her shoulders. "Just a home, something simple. Stability, family – home."

"You're gonna get it, then," Daryl told her. When she looks doubtful he smirked. "You'd bitch on and on about it, and do whatever it took to get it done just to prove you could."

He grabbed the tin of coffee for the long drives they'd need to stay awake for, but snuck in an extra box of tea so she wouldn't have to share it with Lori if she didn't want to.

Continuing their scavenging, making quick work of things they knew they couldn't bring, they aimed for what they could. They'd found pain medication, gauze, first aid kits, and some other gear they'd need: flashlights, batteries, matches, and some gasoline fluid meant for a time where they could have barbeques out in the backyard.

It was probably half an hour of scavenging at most before they heard banging on the glass at the front of the shop. Peering from around the shelf, Daryl cursed as he saw a dozen or so walkers, pawing at the windows, a few more joining them.

Heart thundering, they turned and looked at each other.

"Out back," she whispered, pointing to the door, hurriedly shoving one sack of goods over her shoulder as he grabbed the other.

He pressed his ear against the door hearing no sounds of dragging feet. Shoving it open, his crossbow aimed, he looked at her quickly before focusing. "Your gun, bring it out now."

"I can't do this," she whispers, her hand shaking slightly, even as she pulled it from its holster.

"Same as using the crossbow. Aim and timing, dollface." He told her, leading them out. A few walkers were scattered in the side lot, making him curse as he put his bow away, tugging a gun he barely used out instead. "I'll take out the ones near the truck, you watch the ones further on that side. Tell me if the ones from the front are coming round."

Firing shots, he grit his teeth at the amount of noise it made. It was faster to reload and fire but it was like ringing the dinner bell with each shot. He made quick work of the ones closest to both car doors, hearing her firing as well before she cursed.

As she made quick work of reloading, he took the walker woman she'd been aiming out down. "Focus, doll, focus. Aim and timing. You got this."

A man in a suit was inching towards her at a limp, closing in on her when she finally managed to reload it.

"Daryl," she gasped, looking at the grotesque features. "A little help here."

"No can do, doll," he drawled out, still looking at the car to make sure their exit was viable, the wound in his side throbbing. "I've got you covered. Just aim and fire."

So she did.

Hit.

He watched the light switch go off in her head, watched her sink back into sanity and realize whatever control she had, whatever it was she was looking for, she still had it.

More went down before he called for her to haul her gun-toting ass in the truck.

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What happened in the car, when they were too far away for the walkers to even think about with their short span memory, would probably turn Glenn's face pink.

Lips bruising and touching, burning each other, consuming each of them in flames…

Marking, scratches… deep panting and groans, heavy breathing.

This was what it felt like to be alive.

Andrea pulled her mouth away from his. "We can't do this here, not in the middle of some empty street. Not now when there could be more of them."

Rational thought flooding past their thundering heartbeats, he knew they'd be a pair of idiots if they just did it there. They'd left vulnerable, exposed – the scent of sex would be like a heady aroma of life.

Kissing her quickly, he leaned his forehead against hers, breathing deeply and nodding his head before he pulled her away from his lap.

"Tonight, doll; you're in my tent tonight." It was a promise, a statement of fact, not a question.

He wasn't normally this confident, especially not when it came to women, but somehow he knew with her.

He knew with Andrea.

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They kept it quiet from the group, whatever was between them would stay between them, until they were ready to share it with anyone else.

Dale had looked from Andrea to Daryl, his head tilted for a moment, before he took the sack off Andrea's shoulders, telling Daryl the food on their makeshift table was still hot.

The tracker found himself becoming annoyed with his hands, seemingly burning to touch her. He'd gone into his tent to rest shortly after eating the cooked meat. His side was burning like something awful, but he'd be damned if he let his opportunity with her just slip him by just because of some flesh wound.

Dozing in his tent, he woke to find the setting sun and a golden haired temptress with wavy locks unzipping the opening to his tent.

Andrea smiled at him, a sultry encouraging smile, and it felt good to know she'd been wanting him all day too. She came to him then, laying herself beside him, caressing his whisker roughened cheek before succumbing to his scalding kiss.

And the night was for them.

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Of course compared to the night he had just had, the following day was full of shit.

She hadn't stayed with him after the night they'd shared, but he hadn't expected her to. This was still new, still fresh. They'd take it where it would go, but for now, it was new, and it was theirs, whatever way they wanted to get to wherever their endgame was.

Sitting close to Andrea while they ate breakfast that morning, feeling like a teenager with a crush, everything had been fine. He'd shove his shoulders against hers to rile her up, and was happily finding she'd shove back. Definite good start to the morning.

Until Glenn revealed the secret of a barn full of walkers, and it all went to shit.

Hovering outside the barn, knowing they were that close, that was one thing.

But the heated discussion they were having, staying or going, leave Sophia or not – it wasn't doing anything for his zen. A waste, considering the night before.

Daryl was burning and not in a good way – whether from the Georgia heat or the fact that Shane Walsh was really the biggest idiot he'd ever laid eyes on, one could guess. He was willing to bet it was the latter.

"I'm close to finding this girl," he bit out. "I just found her damn doll two days ago."

Shane scoffed, lips turning up. "You found her doll, Daryl. That's what you did. You found a doll."

He moved forward before he even realized it. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about!"

"I'm just saying what needs to be said."

Rick's outstretched arm was the only thing that was stopping him from tearing up the arrogant bastard on the spot. "Shane," Rick said firmly. "Shane! Shane, stop!"

Shane turned back around to face them, looking directly at Daryl. "Let me tell you something else, man. If she was alive out there and saw you coming all methed out with your buck knife and geek ears around your neck she'd run in the other direction, man!"

If she was alive. Carol had stiffened behind him.

It was her daughter this beast was disrespecting, and any of Carol's hope that she was still out there somewhere was being crushed right in front of her. On top of it, he was belittling everything Daryl had been trying to accomplish, every contribution or effort he made to help keep this group together.

Daryl lunged.

"Come at me, man!" Shane called out, every ounce the madman Daryl knew him to be.

"BACK OFF!" Rick shouted angrily.

And Daryl listened, not because he wouldn't love to beat Shane's face in, cause he honestly would, but because the man was already gone. Long gone. The good man, Rick's best friend – he had died when the world changed. A madman, as mad as the walkers they killed, that was who had been reborn.

"You ain't nothing but a freak to them. Redneck trash. That's all you are. Yeah, they're laughing at you behind your back. You know that don't you?" Merle had said to him in his hallucination. "They ain't your kin."

Shane Walsh was not his kin, and he'd probably be the first to leave Daryl behind to save his own ass. Then again, he felt no loyalty to Shane Walsh and felt no guilt about it.

But he'd known for a while he was loyal to Rick, and their small little band.

Damn.

"Now you listen to me. Ain't nobody ever gonna care about you except me, little brother. Ain't nobody ever will."

Merle was wrong.

They'd go back for him, Rick and the others, and they gave a damn.

So for the rest of their sake, for the fact that Carl shouldn't have to witness the pummelling Shane was definitely owed, for Carol who needed the focus to be on finding her daughter, and for Andrea who looked at him like he was something better, for their sake he backed off.

Trudging away from the mess, and the man he wanted nothing more than to throttle, he made it back to their main encampment.

Footsteps, light and with purpose, followed directly behind him.

'Anthropologically, males tend to rank themselves into a hierarchy. There is no shame in not being at the top of the hierarchy.' He remembered the line from this badass brainy chick in one of his favourite shows.

Goddammit, for once in his life he hated thinking he wasn't anywhere near the tip of that bloody pyramid. And it irked him to no end that Shane freaking Walsh may be closer to being where he wanted to be than Daryl actually was.

'You're every bit as good as Rick and Shane,' Carol had murmured to him.

He didn't need to be compared to Shane Walsh. Breathing deep, drawing hefty amounts of air into his lungs, he shook his head and tried to relax his body. He refused to consider he was below Shane Walsh in that hierarchy.

Stiffening when he felt warm arms come up around his waist, he slowly relaxed at the feel of her.

"What you do matters, Daryl. It matters to everyone, especially Carol," Andrea whispered. "Shane had no right to disregard everything you've done for all of us. You're a good man, Dixon, a better man."

Glancing around, he turned and gripped her hand within his own before pulling her towards his tent.

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Finding Sophia had been devastating.

Burying her was equally as difficult.

Dragging Carol back as she cried, ready to run towards the hallow of her little girl, he couldn't even describe the pain as they all grieved.

And the gunshot… Bloody hell, the gunshot…

Daryl remembered the night after it had all gone down, when it was just him and Andrea laying together.

Holding the blonde in his arms, feeling her curl against him, the reassurance of her presence was astounding. Relying on her…

Whatever was happening between them, it was new, but he was willing to see where it was going to go. So he accepted her presence, her warmth, thankful someone knew it wasn't just Carol who was in such a deep mourning.

When he was out in the woods as a child, he remembered his tears of frustration, crying out in grief for a mother who couldn't come and answer. Twigs had made his bed nightly after a day filled with scavenging for anything to keep his energy going. The shallow stream of river water had felt like an oasis.

Eerie shadows from the forest in the day, and strange sounds from the forest at night… His backside was unbearably itchy, and he'd scratched so hard he broke skin… All of him felt so tender and sore, and he worried that his blood would attract whatever predators were in the woods. He hadn't managed to create his own fire, too cold and scared for the first 5 days, just hoping someone would come.

After that, he knew he'd have to do it himself. On the sixth day he'd made himself a fire. No one would come to get him, and he'd cried in the bright light of the flames on a bed made of twigs, unable to sit up because of the pain, a pile of dirty berries at his side.

He'd closed his eyes at his own memories, wondering how long Sophia had…He couldn't even finish the thought, letting it get swallowed with the rest of the half-finished musings he had. The pain and fear the little girl must have gone through…

Maybe she was out there somewhere, still running in the woods, looking for a haven, looking for her mama, someone to come save her, a warm fire to heat her chilled skin…

Andrea's arms tightened about him then, pulling his gaze towards hers, and she brushes her fingers through his hair, right down to the nape of his neck.

"Enough blame," she whispered to him. "No more."

Eyes directly gazing into hers, he murmured, "You too."

He expected the stiffening, the muscles in her back and shoulders tensing as her arms stiffened their hold on him. The steady green eyes faltered, glistening in the moonlight as thick blonde lashes fanned against smooth cheeks. When she opened them again, the shine is still there, but he searches their depths, seeing the nakedness of soul there that left him yearning for something, hoping he could reach it.

Whatever she found in his gaze must have meant something equally important, because he saw her nod, and felt the steady beating pulse of her heart.

When Randall arrived on the farm, everyone was tense. What he knew about the farm, those men he was with, how big of a threat he was – there were too many questions up in the air.

It made Daryl uneasy, seeing the bloody young man dragged into the farmhouse.

After the boy was healed, the idea to leave him somewhere was agreed upon. Daryl had his reservations, but he trusted Rick. And then Rick and Shane showed up – the tension there was thick. Rick had glanced at him and nodded to the trunk of the car and Daryl knew immediately. With a backwards glance at the blonde he had been talking to, Daryl broke away as she worried her lip.

Bunching his shoulders, he walked towards them, got in the car as they drove the short distance to the barn where they tossed Randall inside.

"Learn what you can," Rick had asked him.

Shane had been silent the whole time, giving him a nod.

.

His fist was colliding once again with the younger man's face, blood streaming down his chin as he fell to the floor.

"I told you," Randall croaked out weakly.

Pacing, breath ragged, Daryl's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You ain't told me shit!"

Roughing him up a bit more, he slammed the boy against the wooden wall, forcing him to groan. "I barely knew those guys. I met 'em on the road."

"How many in your group?" He questioned.

When his question wasn't answered, he plucked his hunter's knife from its sheath, watching Randall panic, and protest. Slamming the knife down hard, he asked him again, "How many?"

"Thirty!" The boy yelled. "Thirty guys!"

Leaning in, his voice gruff, "Where?"

Frustrated at the trailed off answer, he grasped the bandage Hershel had put in place to heal the boy, tugging quickly.

"I don't know, I swear!" Randall gasped from the pain. "We were never in a place more than a night!"

Knife to the wound, he asked, "Scouting? Planning on staying local?"

"I-I don't know," the boy stuttered. "They left me behind."

"You ever pick off a scab?" Daryl questioned, as the man weakly defended his 'good' cooperation. "Start real slow at first but then later you just gotta rip it off."

"Okay, okay. They-they have weapons. Heavy stuff. Automatics but-b-but I didn't do anything."

"Your boys shot at my boys. Tried to take this farm. You just went along for the ride? You tryin' to tell me you were innocent?" The anger was brimming within him.

"Yes! These people took me in. Not just guys. A whole group of 'em. Men and women. Uh, kids too, just like you people. Thought I'd have a better chance with them, y'know? But… we go out, scavenge, just the men. One night, we found this little camp site. A man and his two daughters." Randall looked down. "Teenagers, y'know? Real young. Real cute."

Daryl turned back to the beaten man slowly, feeling his gut coil tight. The way Randall's gaze met his made him stiffen.

"The dad had to watch while these guys… they… And they didn't even kill them afterwards. They just made him watch… his daughters… just left them there… No, but… but…" He saw the rage in Daryl's eyes at his babbling. "But I didn't touch those girls. I swear."

Coldness sweeps across his face, stealing any expression he had before he delivered a swift kick that sends Randall sliding from the wall as he protested, proclaiming his innocence.

Another blow was dealt before Daryl turns away.

He tries to be calm as he walks away, getting ready to relay the news to everyone. Crossbow at his back, he sees them all staring at him upon his return.

"The boy there's got a gang, thirty men. Got heavy artillery and they ain't lookin' to make friends. They roll through here, and our boys are gonna be dead. And our women… they're gonna wish they were."

It's the last part that guts him. Thinking of the man out there in the woods with his daughters … A young Andrea, maybe, and an even younger Amy… He was just trying to do right by them, keep them safe in this godforsaken world, and then he just couldn't…

Imagining Andrea, tough and strong and determined… imagining her being taken and used… Red covered Daryl's gaze. Thirty men, and she probably wouldn't bow down to them, not even for her own safety… But underneath that tough bitch exterior, the woman who managed to handle what life threw at her – underneath it all was a woman who would give up everything for her family and their safety, and these band of people were her family…

Carol's quiet voice asks, "What did you do?"

Sliding his gaze towards Carol before peering at Andrea, he murmurs, "Just had a chat with 'im."

And the rest of the day is gone to shit.

When he and Andrea briefly discuss it, alone in the RV for a short while, he sees her wavering at the decision to kill Randall.

The only real guilt he felt was that he didn't really feel too guilty about wanting Randall gone.

Dale had been wrong when he said torturing men wasn't part of who he was. For now, it had to be. May always have to be. Cause sometimes you'd have to be leaning towards the darker shade of grey, especially if it meant protecting what it was you care so much about to survive for so long.

None of that matters when he has to hover his gun against a dying Dale as Andrea holds the other man's hand, her tears freely falling as he answers her pleas for someone to do something.

The man was gasping, bleeding, in pain…

His eyes were wide, shining.

He pulls the trigger.

In the aftermath it feels like they can't catch a breath.

Andrea, weary and reeling, had crawled into his tent, weeping into his arms as he rocked her through the night, waiting til her tears exhausted her. She'd shivered, fisting his shirt in her tiny hands, trembling as he held her before she finally succumbed.

With the light of the mourning, he untangles himself from her and prepares for the day. The tear streaks are visible against her pale skin in the bright light of dawn, and he swipes at them, knowing she'd hate to see them on her face; she'd take it as a sign of weakness in a world that demanded strength from its survivors. She still didn't realize she was the strongest woman he knew.

He hates it, digging a grave for the man you're all still mourning, but he pitches in.

That was the least he owed Dale, a good man who saw something good in him, a good man who had faith in humanity and saved two blonde chicks he didn't know despite the panic, when everyone turned on each other instead of the walkers.

The funeral was bittersweet. Moments like this reminded them of their humanity, about the things Dale fought for, despite however irritated they'd felt when he'd remind them of what they weren't coming into touch with.

Unable to face the thought Andrea may too be caught off guard, he tugs her to the side and says they needed to go hunting. He's thankful she doesn't comment on the supply of meat they had stocked up on days prior, though she gives him a knowing look.

Hunting, shooting, tracking… He teaches her what he could, keeping both their minds off the pain of death, but the possibility of living and surviving. Half the day is gone, a little before lunch, when they go back and they're both ready to join in on dispatching walkers in the surrounding area.

And it feels like their fragile cooperation for good will last.

So he exhales.

Then Randall breaks free.

And in a breath they're flung back into hell.

Searching for him as night fell was an idea conjured up by an idiot, but his boys needed back up, and the thought of Randall's gang blowing through was like a rusty knife at his throat. He feels pinpricks on the back of his neck as Rick and Shane are no longer with them.

When a geeked out Randall comes after Glenn, the Asian takes him down with his machete, and they're left wondering about the biteless SOB with a broken neck. His clothes were still the same from when he'd interrogated the kid. He'd looked the kid over and there was nothing he could see that was even out of place, y'know, for a walker.

He had a feeling he knew what killed Randall, but he wasn't going to say anything; he didn't have solid proof of any of it, and he'd be damned if he got painted as a liar.

Getting back to the site, mission done for the day, they relay what they find to the group and ask about Rick and Shane. Then as if out of nowhere, there's a sound and an aroma so unmistakable floating about, and it's filling their air. Damned breath literally choking the freshness of the surrounding land, the suffocating scent of death stealing all the life.

It's the sight of them, this massive horde, that runs everyone's blood cold.

He grasps Andrea's hand in his, their gazes touching, before they part to prepare.

Whatever fear and longing they may have glimpsed within each other could not be talked about now.

.

Hell was the right term for it.

The fire is burning, licking the sky like grasping, greedy fingertips. This was some sort of signal that maybe the woman at his old church was right, maybe this really was hell on earth tonight.

Taking down 4, he rolls his shoulders. Maybe he was right, maybe this was just life, and it sucks but shit like this just happened.

A countless number are taken down, but for every one he dispatches of, another five come put of the woods, as equally ravenous as the others.

There's too many of them to take down, and he knows it's time to flee.

Saving Carol on his bike, he wonders about Goldielocks, hating that he couldn't turn back and grab her.

.

Gone, Carol had told them when they were all together on the highyway.

Andrea's gone. Taken down. Too many walkers. Watched her fall.

To him the words weren't making any sense. He had no fucking clue why everyone was somberly nodding, as if grieving, understanding… accepting.

Fuck no, she wasn't gone. The idea of it was sending his head spinning more than the exhaustion.

"'m going back for her," he says bluntly.

He wasn't looking for Rick to be the leader right now. And it looked like the man knew better than to try and stop him. He'd given him a well-meaning warning, one he would've probably dished out to some other idiot on a suicide mission as well. Well-meaning or not, right now he didn't give a shit. His girl was out there, lost and scared, and no way in hell was she going to be abandoned to whatever change of fate had happened last night.

Cause her fate wasn't to be left stranded in the woods, and his fate wasn't to be left on this earth without her there. He'd even put up with her nagging cause honestly? His girl was gonna die old and wrinkly in a bed after reading some boring pictureless book to her grandkids in a new world she helped rebuild.

Hopping onto his bike, he turns back to where they'd come from.

It's all trees, and dirt, surrounding him, and he's desperate to find her. Leaving the bike on the side of the road wasn't an option when time was an issue, though he sincerely wished he could to stave off the noise.

"Andrea!" He calls, because what does have left to lose that's of any value to him besides the woman in the woods.

She may not even be where he was, she could be in the opposite fields, or in a different part of the woods no where close to where he was.

Or she could be gone, a voice whispered.

Tamping that voice down, shoving the hateful idea away, he wouldn't allow himself to think like that. She was strong, and dammit it was stupid, but he felt like he'd feel it if she died, like he'd know deep down she wasn't where he could reach her anymore.

And he didn't feel it, so she had to be alive.

He'd probably agree he was going mad, but the faint call of his name focused his direction a little southwest of where he'd been. Whatever beat in his chest was aching, burning. Cursing, he steers in her direction, stopping a short distance away, he yells for her to move as he makes three clean shots into the remaining walkers foreheads.

He slides back a little on his bike, taking a quick glance around the area to make sure that anything there was further from them than 10 metres, before he pats the seat in front of him quickly. She's scrambling on, and when he knows she's tucked firmly between his arms and legs, her grip tight on the handles, he pushes the gas and gets them the hell out.

She passes out before they even hit the main road, and he's more than one kind of thankful that she's in his arms.

.

After they settled down with the group, Daryl sits close to her as Glenn, still feeling bitter, tells Andrea what Rick had revealed.

Andrea turned her gaze toward Rick who sensed her eyes and met the stare, raising an eyebrow, his posture stiffening. She's in a blanket Carol had offered, stiff and aching.

"I'm pissed at your high-handedness and if I were feeling up to par, I'd probably have to punch you," she told him matter of factly, "But I get why you did it."

He's about to say something when she holds her hand up.

"I agree… you didn't ask to be our leader, but we made you it anyway, because you're a smart man, and a good one, Rick Grimes." She's still dizzy and she knows she's gonna pass out, so she says for all to hear, "I hate to admit it, but I probably would have done something stupid if you had told us right after everything happened at the CDC."

Feeling herself getting fainter, she inadvertently tilts closer to the redneck beside her and says, "I'll punch you after I pass out right now."

And then it's black.

When she had enough energy, she punched Rick like she promised, and everything seemed a lot less tense. Some of them even managed to crack a smile. Andrea may not have always agreed with Rick's decisions, but she could respect he did what he could to keep them alive. It'd take time to mend bridges, and for the others to get their heads out of their asses, but at least it wasn't just Daryl, and maybe Hershel, believing that Rick would still do right by them, had constantly tried to do right by them.

.

The following morning found him sitting up in a tent he shared with her for the night after volunteering to be her watch.

He wasn't quite prepared for what happened when she woke up, but he was quite amused at her frustration with his refusal to make love to her.

"No can do this mornin', dollface," he drawls out. "We're movin' on today, and we've gotta get ready. Besides that you need to keep your strength. Another time, maybe."

Despite Rick's claim at not taking any more opinions, it didn't really last as long as some of them believed it would. He'd called for ideas about where they should seek their next shelter, and it was the start of mending bridges. Winter would be a bitter enemy to face, so those who encouraged going South managed to bring the others round to their side really easy.

He's still smirking as she grumbles and slowly rises, pleased she was looking a lot healther, before his eyes widened with realization at her turned back.

Making love.

"Ah, hell," he curses under his breath as he gets out of the tent, rubbing a palm roughly against his chest.

.

They're three towns away from Hershel's farm when they spotted a used car dealership. A lot of the cars were 2-3 year old models – less milage used up in those than some of their vehicles, and some of the beatings their cars took… Well, it was time to replace 'em, good memories be damned.

So then it's him and Glenn hotwiring vehicles while Rick and Hershel stay with the rest of the group as watch. Andrea and T-Dog were inside the small building scouring the break room for any useful supplies.

Daryl's tense when he watches her head in, an unsettling feeling whirling in his gut, but she'd bitch him out if he even thought she couldn't handle it on her own. And it wasn't that he thought that, but that woman was always volunteering for shit that could get her killed.

How was he supposed to feel?

He's having a stupid fight with Glenn over the 3 RVs they find out back when it happened. One minute he was snapping at Glenn that, no, they wouldn't be taking the one with more space – it had to be the one that would get them farther with less fuel, and then there's screaming and the breaking of glass as they find themselves fighting back a group of walkers.

They draw their guns and take aim, and he's hoping the Asian's hotwiring skills are as quick as his scavenging cause chances were there'd be more of them coming.

Any escape route was otherwise hindered until –

"Hop in!" He backed up slowly, Gleen keeping watch of his back, before he pulled open the door and jumped in.

Shooting three walkers down, they run the fourth one over.

He's glancing at the building seeing half a dozen walkers shambling towards it. The sounds of the shooting had attracted them and he couldn't be even more pissed.

She could… He closed his eyes.

And he had done it himself.

They make it to where Rick and Hershel were already in their cars, engine's running. A dead walker lay beside Daryl's bike, the back of it's skull gone with whatever was left of it's brain a gooey piece of matter.

"Andrea and T-Dog?" It was Maggie, sitting at the back with Beth, who's about to open her mouth, when he sees her being hoisted by T-Dog over his shoulder, her back turned as she…

The hell? Is she still shooting them?

"You're close to the cars, Blondie." Daryl shouted, tucking his gun away before he clenched his fist so tight around it, he'd waste ammo shooting at the ground. "Cease fire so we can fucking go!"

T-Dog was panting as Andrea lowered her gun. Rushing towards them, Daryl reached his hands for her. "Don't you dare shoot me again." He snapped. "'s jus' me."

He hauls her over his shoulder as T-Dog shouts about her ankle, running into the newly hotwired RV. Glancing at the weight in his arms, he shoves her inside as well, telling her quite clearly they'd be having words when they were far enough away.

Rick honked at them to get moving so Daryl slammed the RV doors, her glaring face the last thing he sees before he hops onto his bike and they're off again.

.

When they finally pick a place to rest, he's still not calmed down, so he's surprised she risks it by sending Glenn over to fetch him from where he was pacing underneath a tree.

The younger man swallows as he points towards the back of the RV, stuttering out the message before turning to walk to Maggie who seemed far too amused as she watches Daryl. He raises a brow at her, while she cocks her head as if studying him, before he stomps over to the RV just as T-Dog exits.

"Hey man, do you have any ripped shirt sleeves or something to spare for her ankle?" T-Dog asks. "She won't take any bandages, said we could use 'em for something else."

Daryl eyes him. "I'll take care of it."

Something in his eyes must have tipped the man off because he holds up his hands in a placating gesture before Daryl climbs up inside.

She's laying on the bed with her ankle elevated, looking at something though he's not exactly sure what it is. Her gun lays by her side, the windows of the RV closed, her hair is down, framing her face, and he's still ready to wring her neck.

"You can't just glare at me without letting me explain what I found." Andrea states, still not looking at him, engrossed in the book.

"What in hell d'ya find that didn't make you get the hell out of that death trap of a buildin'? Three shots, dollface. Three." He tells her bluntly. "You like your words? Lemme paint ya a picture. Think of this as a race. First shot, you drop whatever it is you're lootin' and get out. Second shot, you should've gotten out one shot ago. Third shot? Shouldn't even matter cause you should've left that damn buildin' at the first shot."

All she does is watch him while he paces beside her, refusing to sit where she lay.

"And what the hell is it with you always volunteerin' huh?" He demands. "Always stickin' your neck out like that. And for what? A few stacks of paper?"

She holds it up to his face, and he's so angry he's feeling a bit light-headed.

"You almost got… they almost… for the most recent tourist guide?" The words are chewed out from his mouth. "What? Care to see the World's Biggest Fork? Betcha get a discount since, y'know, the owners are probably wanderin' around lookin' for their next meaty meal. And don't even think I meant you're meaty, woman, cause I swear, ya need to eat more damn food. Don't need ya to be gettin' all pissy with me about your weight, when I could easily shove you into this RV like you were a feather."

Her sigh infuriates him, but it's her calm that really stirs his fire. Holding it open, she points to a page and a small info box with names of places and locations. She allows him to take it from her, as he flips the next few pages open.

"I found a stack of these," she tells him. "All about a string of areas in the south. Someone already packed it. Seems they never got a chance to go on their trip."

He's reading over populations, looking at maps and sticky notes with highlighted paths. As far as travel guides go, the ones they had with them right now were probably worth their weight in gold.

"Admit it," she smiled. "I did good."

He grit his teeth and nods, refusing to say anything remotely praising about the books because dammit, that didn't excuse her almost dying for them. Instead he stares pointedly at her ankle. "And that?"

"A sprain," she admits, her body relaxing when he finally decieds to stop looming and takes a seat next to her. "We were running and I slammed into this cart around the corner you couldn't see til you're in that hall. It was the back entrance."

They're both surprised when he wraps his arm around her shoulder, and they remain surprised when she leans in closer.

"Listen doll, I get you're tough but we're gonna have ta talk 'bout you bein' whacked up in the head," he mutters, tapping at her with two fingers, his voice sounding as if it were dragged over gravel for miles.

Her blue eyes roll to the ceiling of the RV, as she settles herself closer to him while he lectures her til she falls alseep against his his shoulder. The last thought she has is that maybe he extended points just to keep holding her.

She smiles at the thought.

Maybe she'd let him know tonight she didn't mind if he just wanted to hold her sometimes.

Or maybe the following morning, cause he still had to pay for his latest point, and the blush she'd probably sleep with on.

"You'd make a tasty snack. Trust me, I'd know."

.

It's a long night of planning after Andrea shares her maps with the rest of the crew. They're picking between small remote islands or a wildlifre reserve surrounded with less population than it's counterparts, and nowhere close to highly populated areas.

What happened at Herschel's farm was too close for comfort.

Nothing close to the city for miles was their aim.

Rick and Daryl are plotting out the travel route, with Herschel and Maggie pitching in about which areas they could potentially grow more food to sustain them. Andrea and Glenn wer listing down alternative routes to their destinations, in case they needed a different route, and fast.

Lori starts keeping inventory of all of the things they had, listing whatever may be needed and gathered, with Carol engaging Beth and Carl into the conversation to keep them from wandering off or feeling apprehensive.

T-Dog's ears and eyes were on their surrounding terrain, ever watchful of shadows in the distance that seemed to linger.

It's a team effort, something they needed to do together, to get their heads straight. Whatever they couldn't control, they could at least do this.

As dinner passed it was agreed that at dawn they'd head out on their journey. It'd be a long drive, one that could probably go for just a day if they kept driving, but breaks were necessary to keep all their wits about them. They'd take long ones, enough for everyone to get a decent sleep in rotations, and come up with ways to communicate to each other through their vehicles, without anyone needing to speak. The less noise the better.

Andrea ends up getting the bed in the RV, everyone insisting that she'd earned it, especially since she got injured to bring a little bit of good news to everyone. So she lays in the bed, the stars outside bright without the lights of the city to contend with.

It's no surprise to her when Daryl sneaks in, but she turns her head to the noise anyway, in case it wasn't.

The man in question says nothing, watching her for a moment before nodding at her to move over. She scoots to give him space, and they stare out the tiny the window together.

"When do you think this will be over?"

He shrugged his shoulders as they spoon in the bed, looking for nothing but each other's warmth.

"Wanted to think this wouldn't last too long. Georgia heat, enough critters willing to pick on the dead, make them their lunch for a change. They have a better chance of sinking a bite into those things, then us. We know when to swat them off." There's a melancholy in his voice as he sighs before saying, "Then there were too many of them walkers crawling 'round, too little insects to get rid of 'em fast enough."

So they sit there and wonder when they could stop being on the run, like many other nights when they both lay somewhere wondering when, wondering why.

But this time was different, because this time they were together.

.

It's a long road of highways, close calls, changing routes, running out of gas, and great frustration. But they celebrated the simple things, like finding cars with gas they could take from the tanks, an empty cabin they could all squeeze into, or abandoned shops with food, clothing, weapons.

They're nearing the edge of Georgia now, close to Florida, when it's his turn to be on the run; volunteering in the scavenging of the blockade of cars denying them passage had proven deadly.

"Hurry up and run. Oh, and Chinaman, you're goin' the wrong freakin' way!" He's shouting to Glenn, 'cause he'd like to think he'd have some sense of humour when running for his mind. T-Dog's tugging him back from a likely suicide mission, and Glenn's looking horrified at the sheer number.

Too many, Daryl thought, and he's pissed there's nowhere he can run or hide without them noticing what he'd done or where he'd gone.

It was the worst time to think of her, but he bet Goldielocks would be fuming mad when T-Dog and Glenn show up without him back at camp. He hoped she didn't cry if she found him afterwards, he never could stand her crying.

He's got 4 bullets in his gun, a hunter's knife, and a crossbow with no time to fire off any bolts. There were at least 20 geeks trailing after him and he's got no clue how to shake them off. The burning of his lungs as he runs is pissing him off, and he runs a wide U-turn, unbelieving when a red car from the abandoned highway is calling walker attention as it rushes and swerves close by, heading straight for him.

It's Glenn, with a… "What the fuck do you have a deer for?" He shouts, when the man is close enough, noticing the tied up buck.

"They're hungry, and we're much fonder of you than the deer," the young man screams back. "Hurry up."

So he jumps into the backseat closest to the deer.

"How the hell are you kee-"

Gasping for air, he glares at the young man accusingly, pointing his finger at the blonde on his chopper making zigzags as the confused walkers turned on a new prey, hungry, wanting anything.

"Get me close, and for fucks sake, if the deer is gonna be a walker bartering tool, you might wanna, I dunno, toss it already," he snarls, and stands on shaky legs, right as they bypass Andrea on his chopper.

He uses his remaining bullets to dispatch of the ones closest to the bike before he knows he's too far gone to be anything but stupid for the blonde driving the motorcycle.

"Shove it out as I jump," Daryl yells, and before he can even think about missing the landing and potentially getting torn to shreads by ravenous mouthes, he jumps.

"Push the damn deer out Glenn," Andrea calls out as Daryl makes a rough landing behind her, astonishing, and turning her on, at the most inappropriate time.

The buck is heard crying out in pain as the walkers turn on it.

"Your ass is mine, the moment we get the hell out of dodge, Goldielocks," he snaps, easing his legs to help her steer the chopper, feeling much like the time he found her in the woods.

She's equally pissy, and states, "Whatever, Dixon, I was already pissed you left me at camp anyway. You would've saved my ass."

He doesn't deny it, but guns the gas peddle to spite her as she grinds up against his front, gasping in surprise.

.

An abandoned campsite with a few cabins is their next shelter. Everyone was too exhausted to even think about driving any further after the day they all had. Rick, Herschel, and the others had gotten into their own skirmish with a few stray walkers on the abandoned highway.

Back tracking from the path they came from, they went a different route that would take them a lot longer than planned to get to the next stretch of freeway. And apart from all that, while they were thankful everyone was unharmed, no one really wanted to deal with the radiating waves of tension and anger coming off of Daryl and Andrea.

It's nightfall, and the two are shoved together in their own cabin, after both once again thank Glenn for coming to help Daryl out.

Daryl's pacing back and forth while Andrea wearily watches him from the single bed away from the door.

"You can't just keep doing that, dammit," he finally snaps.

She rolls her eyes. "Saving you? I did it once. Today."

"Shouldn't 've happened," Daryl tells her pointedly, his eyes narrowed. "D'ya know what could've happened to you?"

"Do you realize you're being ridiculous? Don't let it happen again, and then I won't have to come after you; but if it ever does happen again, I'm not just gonna lie back and weep at the loss when I can do something about it." Andrea marches over to him, encroaching on his space. "You could've gotten killed. What did you expect me to do? Let it happen?"

"Pretty much." He's snarling at her now, the blue in his eyes flashing. "Are you using your head or didja forget, Blondie? What in fuck were you even thinkin' riskin' your ass like that? Not to mention my bike is goin' to need a hell of a lot of repairs."

"Your bike was the least of my concerns, you idiot!" Her finger is jabbing at his chest, as she yells back in his face, "I was thinking maybe I'd go save the ass of the redneck I seem to have stupidly fallen in love with before he gets taken from me too."

They both lose their bluster like sails sagging without any wind, and they take in what she just said, because dammit, he heard love, and damn, she did just say that particular word out loud to him.

So she stutters out the next part of her sentence, trying to regain some of her ground, cause his silence is scaring her. "Do we need to rehash that you saved me from something like this?"

The lumiscence of his irises draws her attention in the lamplight as he says, "Don't want you risking your ass out there alone, cause like it or not, I'm stuck on this damn earth loving you too."

And he tugs her into his arms, wrapping them about her as she crashes into his chest, kissing the breath out of her lungs. They're both still tense, afraid, and angry, but there's hope underneath it all as they tear at each other's clothing, hands splayed on exposed skin, fingers clutching.

He's leaving a trail with his mouth and tongue down her neck, ever lowering his lips, hot breath fanning against her.

It was rough, it was wild, it was theirs.

And they had hope.

.

They finally reach their chosen haven, hijacking a ferry over to an island probably meant for tourists that had probably used this very ferry to make their way back home before the world went to shit. They only manage to fit one car at a time on the ferry, with no way in hell the RV could fit.

Testing it out, Maggie sheepishly admits to having scared their father to death when she was 18, "borrowing" a boat when in New Orleans for a Spring Break trip Herschel hadn't allowed.

To their surprise they find a handful of large houses, picturesque shops with broken windows and barricaded doors, a small park – there was even a library. The awe was short lived when a few walkers stumbled out onto the streets. After a bit of walker disposal, and removing of the old corpses littering the grounds, they took the bodies onto the ferry, back to the mainland.

It took almost another day of cleanup, dragging body after body up a steep cliff, the stone steps hard to maneuver. Bodies were stacked and burned, whatever charred remains were left after they put it out, they left, unwilling to use anymore fuel for the endeavour.

"Seems as if we're leavin' a warning that this place may have been overrun," Daryl muses.

The homes, they agreed, were probably cottages of a few wealthy people, so while large, they were slightly more homey feeling. Staying close to one another, despite the separate homes, was something they all wanted, so the homes on the otherside weren't even considered, especially since they'd all have a better view of anyone paddling towards them from the mainland at this angle.

Andrea's moment of delight came when Daryl Dixon, hunter extrordinaire, shyly tugs at her hand for her to follow him, pointing to the house at the end of a lane that looked like it wasn't quite done being constructed. It's design reminded Andrea of pictures she'd seen of old homes in the bayous, delighting her with it's understated beauty and charm.

It was nothing like Rick and Lori's modern looking two story, or the widestyle ranch the Greene's had chosen to call their own, and it was very much unlike Carol, and her new housemate T-Dog's, beach cabin.

This looked like a home, their home.

The blonde turns her shining eyes towards Daryl, and asks, "Ours?"

"Well it ain't anyone else's, Blondie," he tells her smirking, looking quite pleased she liked where they'd be staying from now on. "I've gotta work on the roof cause I checked it out and looks like they were just finishing this one up. Inside's hallow, but we can probably take whatever else we need from somewhere around here or build it ourselves."

She throws her arms around him, kissing his cheek soundly. "It's beautiful."

He's blushing, but he keeps tugging her hand, making her follow him inside, as she takes it all in.

It's when they're in the kitchen that she smells it. Chammomile.

Her eyes widen, two mugs with steam rising from the top sat on the counter. Turning to look at Daryl, she asks, "Tea?"

And she answers it for herself, seeing a string with a small tag of paper coming from the cups, as well as a small box filled with the packets. Her eyes are watery when he joins her at the counter, neither saying a word, as she wraps her arms around his waist, and he over her shoulders.

They take their freehands, lifting the cups to their lips, his eyes sparkling as they take a sip.

Setting his cup on the counter, their counter, he presses his lips against her glowing hair, before returning her gaze.

"Welcome home, doll."

.

A/N: Happiness, I'm done. That took forever to write – a 10k one-shot – but this was the ending I wanted, and I think it was well worth it, don't you? Besides, I love these two, and I really really hope that more writers come out of the woodwork to give them a chance. And I've been loving these homes I'm picturing in my head that remind me of the bayou which I've been reading about in these paranormal romance novels I seem to be devouring lately.

I've noticed some things on the show that I hadn't the first time I watched it since I had to re-watch episodes to finish writing this, playing certain scenes over and over again. For example, now that I think about it, Shane was the only one of their "loved ones" in the series whom we've seen that they didn't even get a chance to bury. If you want more insight into the characters, the plot, and to see whatever you may have missed, definitely try your hand at writing fanfiction!

The line about the male hierarchy came from the show Bones.

Hope you all enjoyed.

Until the next story.

Charmed