Hey everyone, this is my first Walking Dead fanfiction, Too Late for Hallelujah. I hope you all enjoy it!
Disclaimer: I don't own the Walking Dead, and the illustration for this story is not mine.
Carol appears from within the RV, and glances around, her thin hands clutching the doorway of Dale's Winnebago. Glenn gives her a small wave, and she smiles tightly back at him. "Is Daryl back yet?"
He looks around the rest of the group for him, and then frowns when Daryl is nowhere in sight. Glenn becomes aware of the sky darkening, and he wonders how dusk managed to creep up on them so quickly. Rick and Lori are speaking quietly by the fire, Shane staring into flames opposite them, while Andrea and Dale are keeping watch on top of the RV. T-Dog is the closest to him, reading one of Dale's trashy novels while leaning against the RV.
They had all just come back from looking for Sophia more than two hours ago, and had eaten almost immediately on their return. Glenn hadn't even thought to look for Daryl, what with everyone being so disheartened from yet another day of coming back empty handed.
"Hey, man, you seen Daryl since he came back from searching?" Glenn speaks quietly, not wanting to disturb Carol even further, as he looks back at her pale face.
T-Dog shrugs, "Haven't seen him. Ask Rick." He can't blame the man for being slightly dismissive of Daryl, as the guy had been known to be hostile to him from day one. He was getting better though, Glenn mused as he made his way over to Rick, ever since Merle had gone out of the picture. Daryl still wasn't the friendliest person in the group, not by a long shot, but it couldn't be said that he didn't pull his weight, he always had really, and he seemed to tolerate them all slightly now.
Glenn repeats his question to Rick, who pauses in the middle of his conversation, and looks around. Carol had crept out of the RV by this stage, and sat down quietly beside Lori, who hugged her gently. Rick frowned as Shane says that he hasn't seen the hunter either, and then shouts up to Andrea and Dale. They both look worried as well, and Glenn tried to ignore the sick feeling that's pooling in the base of his stomach, and the way that Carol has one hand pressed over her mouth.
"Daryl?" Rick stomps over to his tent, which is conveniently set as far away as Daryl could get it, and opens the flap, peering inside. When he turns back to face the rest of the group, his face is tense, "His crossbow's not here." The words send a stab of fear into Glenn's stomach, though he tries to ignore them.
The rest of the group is standing now, all looking around fearfully. They seem to have noticed how much darker it's gotten, and the silence that they stand in for a moment is ominous, and crushing.
Carol lets out a muffled sob as she turns to gaze out at the fringe of the woods.
"Okay," Rick takes charge, Shane stepping up to stand beside them as they continue to scan the nearby area for any sign of Daryl. "Glenn, search the house. Andrea, I want you and Dale to take the stables, see if the horse that Daryl took is still gone. Lori and Carol, look in all the tents. T-Dog, keep a watch out on top of the RV, in case he's just heading back now. I'll go fill Hershel in. Shane, take the fields around the property, but don't go into the woods." They all nod, like the soldiers that they've had to become, though fear is evident on everyone's face. "Nobody panic," Rick cautions, "I'm sure he's fine, that he's just hanging out by himself somewhere, but these are just precautions that we have to take."
Then Glenn's hurrying towards the house, and when Maggie opens the door and smiles softly at him even though things are still confusing between them, it's all he can do not to push past her and start yelling for Daryl. He doesn't though, instead calmly explaining the situation, and asking everyone that he can find in the house if Daryl had come through there.
They all answer no.
Rick is striding around the camp with Hershel, trying not to let his worries get the better of him. Daryl's fine, he tells himself, the guy's one of the toughest men that he'd ever met.
But dread is starting to seep its tendrils around his thoughts, and all he can think about is how dark it is. Now they were missing two people. It was stupid to let Daryl out on his own, Rick reasons, though he knows that there's no way the redneck would have let anyone come with him.
"What about the barn?" He suddenly asks, missing the look of fear that Hershel lets slip out for a fraction of a second. "Is there any way that he could be there, do you think?"
The other man shakes his head quickly, "No, no way. That place had been locked for years, there's no way in or out." Looking back, Rick realises that he should have copped onto the way that Hershel had answered too quickly, but his mind was too full with all the possibilities.
By the time the group meets back up again, it's fully dark, and there's no sigh of Daryl anywhere. Carol's crying silently across from him, and the looks on everyone else's faces are hardened. As if they're already counting on Daryl as being dead, and bracing themselves for the grieving process.
They've just lost too many people.
And Rick is determined not to let them lose another.
"Okay, listen up. We haven't found him yet, but that doesn't mean that we're giving up on him. It's too dark for us to go back out now and start searching, but first thing tomorrow, if he hasn't shown up, I'm going to head out on horseback, and try to find that ridge that he was talking about. Anyone else going to join me?"
He looks at Shane, and is briefly surprised when his friend gives a slight nod. Rick would have thought that Shane would have been the last person to volunteer for the search, after their conversation that afternoon, but then he realises that his former partner is probably looking at things from a tactical point of view. Daryl provided them with most of their fresh meat, squirrels and the rare deer, and the camp needed him more than they'd rather admit. They didn't need Sophia all that much, when it came down to the harsh reality of surviving.
T-Dog, Glenn, and Andrea all volunteer for the search too, and Rick tries his hardest not to look at Carol, who is still sobbing, her body shaking with the force of her grief.
There was always a chance that Daryl was fine. He used to stay away for days when they were back in Atlanta, tracking deer for miles and miles, but Rick knows deep down that this time is different. This isn't Atlanta, and they've all grown closer. He was willing to bet that a month or two ago, Daryl wouldn't have been out in the woods every day looking for a missing child, but now that's all that's fuelling him. Maybe he caught sight of a new trail, and is just following it for as long as he could.
Or maybe a walker got him.
Maybe he's already dead.
With the new plan formed, Maggie and Hershel drift off back to the house. Carol is almost beside herself, and Rick can see how hard she's trying to supress it. She nods to him, wiping the tears off her face before more fall just as silently, and then climbs up the RV steps quietly. Dale sits in his chair on top of his RV, and doesn't say another word to anyone, just sits there staring out into the darkness.
Everyone else melts off to their usual haunts around the camp, and then their tents, all traces of conversation gone in the second that it took them to realise that Daryl was gone.
Soon it's just him and Lori left by the dying fire, and she leans into him. "Where do you think he is?" She asks quietly, and he's slightly surprised at the amount of concern that is visible in both her expression and her tone. He didn't think that she cared much for the redneck, at least, not until now.
"I don't know," He admits, and then bites his lip. It's his job to be strong for everyone, and that's not a responsibility that was going to disappear just because Daryl is missing, "But we'll find him tomorrow," The words sound hollow to his ears, but they seem to satisfy Lori.
She slips off to their tent only a short time later, and he says goodnight to her with a kiss, saying that he'll join her soon, but he honestly doesn't see himself moving for this position for quite a while.
When Rick wakes, its morning, and he realises that he must have fallen asleep by the dying fire, because he's lying on the dirt ground and Glenn is standing over him looking anxious. "He didn't come back," Were the first words out of his mouth, and Rick realises that Glenn is holding a gun and a crowbar in his hands.
There's a dagger in the belt of his jeans, and it's slightly disconcerting to see Glenn looking this hardened.
Rick scrambles to his feet, and sees T-Dog leaning against the RV, with a large blade in his hands, and Shane emerging from his tent.
None of the others are awake, so it must be early, Rick realises, and looks up to the roof of the RV to see Dale looking down at him sadly, his face exhausted. "I kept watch all night," He says grimly, "Daryl never came back. Carol spent the whole night in tears."
It must be excruciating for the woman, missing her only child, and then being told that the only man who had been out every day searching for her had failed to return. He had no words to offer her, only empty promises that she'd heard all too much before when Sophia had gone missing, so he avoided going into the RV
He grimaces slightly at the older man's words, and then nods up to Dale to acknowledge him, before he ducks into his own tent to grab his weapons, and kiss Lori awake. She stirs, and their eyes meet, and somehow she just knows. "Just be careful…"
Rick presses his lips to her forehead, and they stay like that for a moment, before he silently pulls away and grabs his gun.
At the stables, Jimmy is saddling two of the horses, looking slightly bleary eyed from the early hour, and the others are gathered around. No one is speaking, just staring at random spots on the wall, gripping their weapons tightly, and preparing themselves mentally for the worst. It's then decided that Rick and Shane will take the two horses, and that Andrea, T-Dog, and Glenn will stick together and cover more ground behind them.
Glenn pulls out the crumpled map that they had been referencing off the previous day, and all five of them peer into it. "This is where Daryl had said that he was heading yesterday, to this ridge here where he seemed to think that he'd have a view of the whole grid. I'd say that there would be our best bet, so we'll take this approach, which lopes around a bit, and head for the ridge, while the people on foot should just head straight there. Is that clear with everyone?" He traced a clear line from the farm to where Daryl had set off to the previous day for the group on foot, and then loops his finger back around for himself and Shane's route.
A series of nods and grunts answer him, and then he rolls up the map, and hands it back to Glenn. Rick grabs the reigns off Jimmy as Glenn puts the map back into the small back pack that he has strapped onto his back, and then he and Shane swing themselves into the saddle.
"Let's go then."
Hershel appears just as they're making their way out of the stables, and he doesn't even say anything about the shotguns and pistols that they're all carrying in full view. "I hope you find your friend." They acknowledge him with grim faces, smearing with dirt that seems ever present these days, and it's horrible how accustomed that they've become to missing people and anticipating loss.
They lose the three people on foot within a few minutes, the horses navigating through the forest faster than human feet can. Still, it's slow going, as Rick and Shane didn't dare to put the horses into anything faster than a walk. They daren't take the chance.
Every rustle in the bushes has Rick snapping his head up, but it's never anything. He handles the reigns with one hand, the other clutching his gun, though he knows that he shouldn't use it unless he absolutely has to. His dagger is tucked into his belt, and he can see that Shane has done the same. They both scan the ground for any signs of a body, but there's nothing except leaves and dirt. Rick is growing more and more nervous with every minute.
The first twenty four hours are crucial in a missing person's case…
But it's the goddamn zombie apocalypse, and everyone's luck has gone to shit, and, hell, none of them even know how long that Daryl's really been missing for.
Shane looks like he's scanning the ground for any sign of Daryl's tracks, and Rick even joins in for a while, but its painfully obvious that neither of them are trackers. They needed Daryl for something like this, and the realisation only makes his absence more obvious.
So instead, Rick focuses on the trees in front of him, and tells himself that Daryl will be fine. That they'll probably come across him sitting on a log eating raw squirrels or something. Then they'll be able to give out to him, and head back to camp where everyone will give the guy shit for staying out without telling them, and things will be back to normal. Because, unless he's found Sophia, any other outcome of the situation is starting to look pretty dire.
It takes them a few hours to reach the ridge that Daryl had been talking about, mostly because they took the long way around, and because they didn't really know where it was. When they finally do manage to get the horses up the slope, and onto a trail that looks new, Shane glances over to him, and points at something on the ground.
Rick leans over, and sees crushed leaves and scattered dirt, and knows that there's been a struggle. He had been a cop once, and there's too much evidence for it to be anything else.
But there's no body.
No blood, no walker corpse, no discarded arrows, no horse.
They both dismount, and Shane crouches down to get a closer look at the torn up ground. Rick hides a smile when he realises that Shane probably considers himself an amateur version of Daryl. "Looks like the horse took off," He says in a low tone, "But I'm sure that even Daryl isn't stupid enough to suddenly break into a gallop out of nowhere."
He nods his agreement, and then moves to look down over the edge into the valley that's below them. Rick's eyes scan the ground, seeing a steep cliff that leads into a waterfall type rock formation, and then a river. He can't see anything unusual.
Until he can.
"Oh, shit. Shane, get over here"
His friend is immediately at his side, and they both stare down at the still body of Daryl Dixon, that's lying on the other side of the valley, outstretched on some rocks. He's not moving. Then they see the blood trail that leads from the waterfall, and over to a steep incline, that's a few feet away from the body.
"Looks like he tried to climb back up, but fell. Probably knocked himself out again."
Rick has to squint to see properly, but it looks like there's a red puddle of blood surrounding Daryl, and he bites his lip.
"Daryl!" There doesn't seem to be any walkers around, so Rick takes his chances, and yells out the redneck's name, while Shane hurriedly secures the horses to a tree before reappearing back beside him. "DARYL!" It's a long shot, but Rick tries to yell loud enough to stir Daryl back into consciousness, but be quiet enough that he doesn't attract the nearest five herds.
Shane is moving closer to the edge, peering over at different locations, before shaking his head, and moving to a different place. "I can't see a clear path down. It's all just loose bark and dirt. We'd nearly be better sliding down, and taking our chances." He curses loudly then, and Rick detects the slightly hint of concern in his voice, as Shane looks over at Daryl again.
He inhales sharply then, while Rick is looking over the edge, and grabs his shirt, "Fuck."
There's a walker heading straight for Daryl, the stumbling gait clearly recognisable, and Rick almost loses the ability to breathe. He grabs blindly onto Shane's shirt, and for a split second, the two of them are frozen, clutching onto each other for support. Daryl still isn't moving.
They're about to have a bird's eye view of one of the group getting eaten by a walker, and there's nothing that they can do.
Then Rick lunges forward, and starts making his way down the treacherous slope, as fast as he can without killing himself, and he can hear Shane doing the same thing right behind him. He glances up for a moment, somehow managing to see through the trees and branches that he's sliding past, and sees the walker less than a metre away from Daryl. They're not going to make it in time.
The bushes hide Daryl from his view then, and Rick lets his breaths come out in gasps as he pushes himself harder to go faster. At this point, both him and Shane are practically falling down the damn slope, but neither of them are fighting for any more control.
Rick wonders if Daryl will regain consciousness and start screaming when the walker begins to devour him.
He's nearly at the bottom now, and his heart is in his mouth, and Shane is breathing heavily behind him.
They both end up tumbling onto flat ground in a flurry of leaves and dirt. Both pairs of eyes snap up to see the walker gnawing on their friend's boot. He still hasn't moved, but they're too far away to shoot at it, and there isn't enough time to run over.
Rick spots another walker shambling over, and he has to hold in a frustrated and grief filled scream.
But then suddenly, Daryl starts to stir, and the two ex-cops hold their breath in disbelief as he twitches. Then the walker suddenly lunges for his face, and they jump to their feet as Daryl throws his arms up, and lets out a moan of pain that even they can hear as he attempts to wrestle with it.
Then Rick and Shane are sprinting across the sand, while Daryl rolls around on the ground with the un-dead creature, and Rick curses himself silently for not being a faster runner. Shane is creeping past him, and they're both running as fast as they can. Daryl lets out a muffled yelp as the walker manages to get on top of him again, but he shoves it off, and flings a hand out, that lands miraculously on a long, thick stick that he grabs and swings with all his strength.
The walker's face cracks with a disgusting squelch as it caves in on itself, but Daryl keeps bashing it, unflinching, as Shane and Rick come closer.
Shane veers off to the left to confront the other walker that almost on top of Daryl as he tries to drag himself backwards with hisses of agony, and shoves his knife into a rotting eye socket. The walker goes down quickly after that, it's brain effectively pierced, and Rick is relieved that Shane didn't just pull out his gun like he normally does.
Rick throws himself down on the ground beside Daryl, and starts patting his leg where the walker had been chewing, frantically looking for a bite of any kind. Daryl lets out a groan that is so full of pain and anguish that Rick finds himself wincing, and tries to pull weakly away. Shane is suddenly behind him though, and he holds the man in place until Rick looks up, relived, and says, "No bite. I think it was just gnawing on the leather of the boot."
Then they both sigh in relief, and take a proper look at Daryl.
The relief quickly fades.
"Oh, God," Rick hears himself saying as he stares down at the arrow that is protruding grotesquely from Daryl's side. He had obviously tried to secure it and stop the bleeding by ripping off his sleeves, and tying them around his middle, but the material was soaked through his blood.
"M-Merle...?" Daryl groans, a hint of some unknown emotion in his voice.
"Daryl? No, Daryl, it's Shane and Rick... Can you tell me what happened?" Daryl's eyes focus briefly on him, but then they slide away, and the redneck doesn't answer.
One whole side of his face is also covered in dried blood, and it is visible in his hair as well, a deep cut clearly hidden from view within his head. Daryl lets out a sharp exhale of obvious discomfort as Shane holds him steady, and the two cops meet eyes. Rick has no idea how they're supposed to get Daryl out of there, and back to the farm house on their own. "Easy, man," Shane says quietly as Daryl tries again to flinch away from Rick's hands that hover over his stomach.
"Don't fuckin' touch me… you b-bastard."
The words are shaky and slurred, but its 100% a Daryl thing to say, and Rick bites back a smile. "I just have to check this, okay, Daryl? I'll be really quick, just count to ten." He slowly pulls up the material of Daryl's shirt, which is now caked in blood and mud and dirt, and frowns when he sees exactly where the head of the arrow is protruding from.
It went in from the back, and pierced through all the muscles and tendons, and then came out about an inch from his belly button. It was in deep, and all Rick could do was pray that it hadn't nicked any organs. He had no way of telling if there had been any internal bleeding either. "Get off me, fuckin' cop…" A foot manages to catch him weakly on the leg, and he apologies to Daryl, gently letting go of his shirt, and moving back to sit beside the man's heels.
Rick glances down at Daryl's legs, seeing the one that had kicked him lying beside his other one that was twisted at an awkward angle. "Daryl, can you move your right foot for me?"
"Fuck off," He moaned, but then he obligingly twitched his right foot a half an inch, before slamming his head back into Shane's muscled shoulder, cursing under his breath, and telling Rick in no uncertain terms just how much of an asshole he was.
"Doesn't seem to be badly broken, if you can move it," Rick mutters under his breath, looking over Daryl's face to meet Shane's eyes, "Maybe just a bad sprain or dislocation?"
But, out in the forest a few hours away from the farm in the middle of a zombie apocalypse when the world had gone to shit, a dislocation or sprain could well be a death sentence. Shane frowns, and then pulls Daryl up by his armpits, "C'mon, let's get you sitting." It takes a few moments for the redneck's eyes to stop rolling around in his head, and his head lolls slightly to the side when Shane moves him, despite the fact that they're moving slowly and carefully.
His head injury must have been worse than Rick had previously thought.
Shane had just picked up his gun again, and was scanning the area for any sign of more walkers when they both hear a faint yell. Daryl winces, and lifts up a dirt smeared hand with another moan. He pushes the heel of his hand into his forehead, and Rick can see him trying to keep his pain contained, and stay in control of himself.
He looks up towards the top of the small cliff, and Rick lets out a relieved sigh when he sees who's waving at them through the thin coverage of trees. Glenn is standing next to Andrea and T-Dog, his arms flapping around wildly, and Rick's willing to bet that his feet are even lifting slightly off the ground with his enthusiasm. Shane signals back at them quickly, from his position supporting Daryl, and the threesome start to make their way carefully down the steep slope.
It's a good thing that their reinforcements have arrived, Rick knows that, but he glances back down at Daryl, who is barely conscious at that point, and can't help feeling something that seems a lot like dread slam into his stomach.
God only knows how Daryl lasted the night in his condition, all alone, and though he was trying not to think negatively, Rick wasn't sure that Daryl would survive the trip back up the cliff, or back to the farm.
So there's the first chapter :) I hope that it was okay, and that you guys can give me some feedback. I'll hope to get the next chapter up in the next couple of days, but feedback would help me to write faster, and be more confident or know where I need to improve.
Thanks for reading,