AN: I'm so sorry this took so long for me to get out. But here it finally is! I hope that this is worth the wait. Also, I took some liberties here, as I'm sure you've noticed. But he's still got the arrow because in order to have him unconscious longer I omitted the walker attack, sadly this also means no ear necklace, sorry.
"My God." Rick dropped to his knees, checking Daryl's pulse and finding a weak one. Glenn knelt down on Daryl's other side, watching nervously.
"Is he bit, Rick?" Shane asked while sweeping the area for potential threats. His shotgun up and ready.
Rick began carefully checking Daryl over. "I'm not sure. I don't think so."
"But what the hell happened? How'd he shoot himself!" Glenn said gesturing to the arrow wound.
"I don't know. Are you sure it's his arrow? Maybe he came across another survivor."
Shane scoffed. "Come on man. What are the chances of that?" Seeing no immediate danger in the surrounding forest, he bent down to scrutinize the offending object before straightening back up, stating decisively. "That's Daryl's arrow, alright."
Rick gently turned the fallen man onto his back, looking for additional wounds or any bites. "There's no bites, but he knocked himself in the head pretty good. Look at that." He motioned for Shane to inspect the jagged gash on Daryl's right temple.
"Shit. He's concussed for sure." Shane stated gruffly, lifting one of Daryl's eyelids then the other. "Well, his pupils are the same size, so there's that. These the only wounds he's got, the head and the arrow?"
"Looks to be." Rick replied as he gently tapped Daryl's cheek, hoping to get some response. Nothing, not even a twitch.
"Should we take this arrow out?" Glenn asked. "It can't be good for him to have it in there."
"No. He didn't see fit to take it out, and the bleeding's not too heavy. If we take it out, it'll start back up again." Rick gestured at the bloodied ground beneath them with a sigh, "That's the last thing he needs." He studied the unconscious man for a moment, noting the ghostly pallor and thin sheen of sweat, and when he placed his palm against his cheek it was cool and clammy to the touch. Signs of hypovolemic shock. Fucking perfect. He grabbed Daryl under the arms. "We need to get him back to camp. Glenn, you take point. Shane, help me carry him."
Together he and Shane lifted him, each slinging an arm about their shoulders and Shane being careful to avoid the arrow wound. They began trudging after Glenn, their speed hindered by Shane's still healing ankle and Daryl's dead weight. It was going to be a long walk back to camp.
Upon opening his eyes, Daryl was greeted with a dizzying swirl of earthy tones sliding unsteadily beneath him. It was enough to induce another unwanted bout of retching, but somehow he managed to choke the sensation down.
Why was the world moving? Where was he? What had happened? He was having a hard time wrapping his head around, well, anything when he finally became aware of two things: feet on either side of him plodding through the sparse undergrowth, and two bodies supporting him by the arms dragging him in between them. What the...?
"We're almost there. Do you want me to run ahead and tell the others to get ready?" A voice came from somewhere slightly ahead of him and his human crutches.
"No, once we get into the clearing they'll see us coming." The man to his right answered.
Those voices. Suddenly it was all clear. Searching for Sophia. Falling down the ravine. Getting impaled on his own damned crossbow bolt. That was Glenn and Rick talking, and judging by the boots and slight limp, his left crutch was Shane. They must have come looking and found him. They found him. He almost couldn't believe it. They actually went out and searched for him. He had to admit, there was a part of him that really didn't think they'd give a rat's ass. Dismiss him as lost without a passing thought when he failed to return. Why would they look for him? He was just some idiot, white-trash hillbilly and no good to any of them. Couldn't even track down a little girl, just her damned doll.
The doll! He still had it on him, right? God he hoped so, it was a sign he was on the right path. They had to keep looking. They had to go back and find Sophia. There was no time to be wasting on his stupid ass and his insignificant injuries.
"Stop." He lifted his head a bit, and felt Rick and Shane jolt in surprise, evidently having thought he was still unconscious; however, they didn't listen and kept walking. "We have to go back." Maybe his injuries weren't so insignificant after all. His voice came out weak and he had a hard time mustering the energy to speak, much less keep his head up.
"Man, you're crazy." Shane said, disbelief and annoyance lacing his words. "I mean, just look at you."
"Mmmh." Was the only answer he could manage for a moment. 'Way to go jackass. That's sure helping your case.' Daryl could hear Merle laughing again, only this time it was peppered with demeaning taunts. 'I told you they think you's just some dog shit.' 'Look at you Darylena. Never thought I'd see the day you'd let a couple'a pigs cart you around like their little bitch.' The laughing was getting louder after each insult. He vaguely remembered hearing that self-important cackle before he passed out the last time, and wondered if he was about to fall out again. Willing himself to stay awake, but unable to keep his head from drooping he whispered, "I found her doll."
At this news they finally jerked to a halt, Shane accidently bumping the arrow still protruding from his side, producing a barely stifled cry of pain. Shane muttered an apology at the same time as Rick 's hopeful 'What? Where?' Well not hopeful really. Desperate. Yeah, desperate, like he was latching on to this new piece of information as though it were a lifeline. A rope to free him from a pit of darkness and despair.
"Daryl!" Right, Rick was talking to him. "Where did you find this?"
Looking up, Daryl saw that Rick was now holding Sophia's doll in front of his face; well, that answered whether he'd lost it or not. The ratty thing was still damp, but no longer dripping. Absently he wondered if Carol would be able to get it clean for Sophia, or if it was destined to be forever stained a murky brown from that creek. Right, the creek.
"It was in the creek." He answered simply, his stubborn eyelids sliding shut. He could almost feel three pairs of eyes rolling at him, because surely they were getting fed up with his weakness, before Glenn asked concernedly where the creek was. "I don't know. Where you found me, I guess."
Shane let out an exasperated sigh. "Man, he doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about. I told you, he's concussed."
"No." Daryl insisted, straightening up. He couldn't let Sophia and Carol down now. He had to man up, stop being a pussy and just deal with his wounds later. "It's over the ledge."
He tried to pull away from Rick and Shane. Head back the way they'd come and show them, but their grips tightened and they began walking again, back toward the farm.
"Where do you think you're going?" Rick asked when he tried tugging again.
"We have to go back. I'll show you." Why didn't they understand? He was awake now, he'd be fine. Besides he had tracking to do. They didn't have time for this!
"You can show me on a map later. You're in no condition to go traipsing around the woods." Rick stated as they broke through the treeline, the sun suddenly glaring brightly in Daryl's eyes intensifying his headache.
"What happened out there anyway?" Glenn asked looking over his shoulder at the trio.
"Stupid fucking horse." Daryl murmured.
"What?" Glenn shared a glance of confusion with Rick and Shane, but Daryl didn't see, or answer. He'd already passed out again.
Later that night, Daryl lay in bed in Hershel's guest room. He didn't remember much of that walk through the woods with Rick, Shane and Glenn, but he couldn't get over the fact that they'd come for him. Or the looks of concern he'd seen on Rick's and Hershel's faces while he was being patched up. Hell even Shane's. Several of the others had even come to check on him afterwards, and he'd gotten the distinct impression that they were reassuring themselves that he was alive and ok. That they were worried. About him.
He didn't know what to make of it. The concussion left his thoughts muddled, and this perplexing dynamic his fellow survivors were displaying was way too confusing. It was like they cared or something. But why would they care? A knock sounded on the door just then, interrupting his thoughts. He didn't feel up to dealing with anyone, so when the door opened he pretended to be asleep.
He could feel the visitor just standing over him and watching him for a few moments. Which made him incredibly uncomfortable, but he remained still, even when the sheet was gently pulled higher to cover his bare shoulder.
Then she suddenly spoke. "I'm so sorry, Daryl. You got hurt looking for my baby girl. You'll never know how grateful I am to you for looking for her, but if you had..." Carol's voice was thick with emotion. Was she going to cry? "If something had... I don't know what... Just get better soon." He heard her gather the tray of food she'd brought him earlier and quietly leave the room.
What was that all about? She was genuinely upset that he'd gotten hurt. He thought back to the groups reactions to his little adventure and couldn't help but think they all seemed genuinely upset too. But, that wasn't right. Merle was the only one who had ever cared about him. The only one who ever would. His brother's words ran through his head, and not just from today, but from their entire lives. The taunts and sneers, insults and curses. There were times of affection and encouragement, too, but they were few and far between. And finally, it dawned on him. Merle was wrong. These people did care about him. In some fucked up way they were more of a family to him than Merle ever had been. Daryl considered this for a few minutes, and just before he dropped off to sleep decided he was actually ok with that. He could do worse. Much worse.