Hey guys :) This is just a new fic that I'm playing around with… I hope you guys like it!
It was, quite simply, a miracle that they found them.
Rick had been about to shoot the staggering figure that was rustling through the woods just ahead of them, Shane right beside him with his gun raised. But then the figure turned into two, one of them significantly smaller than the other, and the tiny body tripped and fell, bursting into tears.
He had seen a lot of things, in the past week, but Rick didn't think that he had ever seen a walker trip, and then cry about it.
He lowered his gun just as the two spotted them. "Hey, is that someone? Oh thank God, oh God, hello? Is that someone?" The desperation and relief in the woman's voice couldn't be unheard, and Rick glanced at Shane, who also reluctantly lowered his gun.
Then the woman burst through the final wall of foliage that had been partly concealing them, and Rick had to stifle a gasp. She was dressed in clothes that had been almost torn to pieces, her hair so messy and tangled that Rick imagined that it would take hours to get it looking acceptable again, and blood stained her left side. Instinctively, he and Shane took a step back, wary of bloody strangers in this new and dangerous world that had happened upon them all so fast.
"You bit?" Shane grunted, and after a moment, she nodded.
The effect was instantaneous, both men raising their shotguns and handguns before Rick could draw in another breath.
But instead of attacking them or trying to defend herself like they had anticipated, she dropped to her knees, pushing the small figure out in front of her with a scream, "No, no don't shoot, not yet! He's not bit! He's not bit!" The 'he' that she was referring to was a skinny scrap of a child, one that Rick guessed to be about five or thereabouts, and he shrank back against her at the sight of the loaded weapons pointed in his face. She shoved him firmly away from her, and said, "You have to take him. Take him with you, back to your group, or just with you! Please… He's not bit, and I… Please, you have to take him."
The boy had fallen onto his hands and knees with the strength of the second push, and he looked up at Rick with expressionless eyes. Tears were dried on his face, smeared with dirt and sweat, but there didn't seem to be any blood on him.
Shane kneeled down slowly, and looked the kid up and down, while Rick kept his eyes and gun trained on the woman. She had started to cry softly.
"Are you bitten anywhere, little man? Are you hurt?"
He shook his head, hands still braced against the ground. Rick nodded sharply at Shane when he glanced back at him, but when Shane offered the kid a hand to get up, he only stared. Then he looked back at the woman they had found him with, tears streaming down her face, and she shook her head.
"You have to go with them. These men will look after you, look, one of them is a police officer." Shane had his POLICE cap on, and Rick tried to smile reassuringly at the kid when he lifted his head to gaze at him, but the child still didn't look convinced.
His heart aching at the sadness of the situation, Rick nodded again, and said, "It's okay, we aren't going to hurt you. See the guy there, that's Shane. He's my best friend, and I'm a cop just like him. We have a group of people waiting for us back at a big farm house, where there's lots of food, and horses, and we take care of each other there… We'll look after you for your mom."
"Oh, no, he's not my son," The woman said, just as the kid took Shane's hand and let him lift him gently off the ground, "I found him wandering around lost a few weeks ago. He's a good boy though, you won't have no trouble… I just, oh thank God you were here. I didn't—I didn't know what I was going to do if I hadn't found someone. I thought that I was going to have to…" She started to sob harder at this, and held her arms out, "Come here, and give me one last hug."
Shane's hand tightened around the boy's shoulders at this, and he and Rick shared a glance. Then Rick looked down at the sobbing woman on the ground, who was going to die, and at the child that she was going to leave behind. He nodded, and the kid ran towards the woman who had protected him.
He stood there quietly as she threw her arms around him, and hugged him tightly. Then, after a few minutes, she pushed him away, and tried to wipe her tears off her dirty face. Shane squeezed the kid's shoulders in what he meant as a comforting gesture as the boy returned to his side.
Then the woman took out a small handgun, and smiled up with watery eyes at Rick. "One bullet," She whispered, her eyes flickering over to the boy's, and then Rick understood.
She had been going to shoot the kid if she hadn't found anyone to look after him, had been going to save him from the horror of being savaged by her when she eventually turned, and became a walker. It was a horrifying prospect, and Rick felt a rush of relief that they had come this way on their search for Sophia.
He nodded wordlessly at her, not knowing what words that he could say, "We… We'll take care of him."
The woman raised the gun to her head, "Thank you," The words were broken and hollow, and she looked right into the boy's eyes. Shane was trying to turn him away, not wanting him to witness what was about to happen, but he held his ground, and stared silently at her.
Then she pulled the trigger, and her life ended in a splatter of blood.
Rick stood in horror for a second, staring at the corpse of a woman that he'd only known for a minute or two. It scared him how quickly the whole thing had happened.
The he turned back to the small boy, whose eyes were fixated on her body, and knelt down. "Hey, uh, kid, my name is Rick," He suddenly realised that he had no idea what the child's name was. Or what the woman had been called. He felt sick to the stomach, "My name is Rick, and that there's Shane… What's your name?"
The boy didn't respond, staring at the body for a few more moments, before he turned away, and looked over at Shane. They both then saw how painfully thin he was, and Shane bent down as well. "How about we head back to our farm, and get you something to eat, huh?" Shane got a nod in return, and he gave the boy a smile, "Okay then. Why don't you climb up on my back then, little man?"
Silent, the kid clambered onto Shane's back, locking his arms around his neck. He seemed to smile slightly when Shane stood up and he saw how tall he was, but that was gone in an instant.
Rick sighed. "Let's get back then."
The child was quiet for the whole duration of the journey back, resting his chin against Shane's shoulder as they trudged through the woods.
Rick had offered to let Shane bring the boy back to the farm, and stay out looking for Sophia, but after a few short sentences were exchanged, it was clear that the idea was a non-runner. If any walkers came upon Shane and the child, it would be more difficult for Shane to aim his gun with the boy on his back, and the noise might attract more. Rick walked ahead of them, knife in his hand, as he lead them back the way that they'd come.
He tried not to think about what Carol would think when she saw a child with them, and how her hopes would be shattered.
When they reached the fringe of the woods, and the farmhouse came into view, the boy let out a gasp. Rick smiled at that, knowing first-hand how impressive and beautiful the farmhouse looked from the harshness of the woods.
"Here we are," He said softly, and watched as the boy seemed to retreat inside himself again, the small smile slipping off his face.
There was no one outside when they reached their campsite, and Shane let the boy down. He glanced around nervously, as if expecting a walker to jump out at him, so Rick said, "There's no walkers here. You're safe now."
It didn't seem to reassure him that much though, and he continued to stick close to them, eyes narrowed in anticipation of anything. Rick ducked his head into his tent, to find Lori and Carl both reading. "There's something that you need to see. We found a little boy out in the woods, and, well, it's a long story." He explained, and Lori looked up, confused. "Maybe if you stay in here for the moment, Carl. I don't want to spook him."
When he and Lori stepped out of the tent, Carol had appeared, and she was bending down to talk softly to the kid. He was regarding her silently though, through hooded eyes, pressed as close to Shane as he could get without touching him.
"Hey, sweetie," Lori knelt down next to Carol, and smiled, "Are you okay?" She got a small nod at that, though it looked hesitant, as though the boy didn't know if he was okay or not. Maybe his definition of okay had changed a lot in the past few weeks, "Are you hurt anywhere?" He shook his head, "That's good. Why don't you come over here with us, and we'll get you something to eat, okay? Are you hungry?" At the mention of food, he glanced up from where he had been staring at the ground, and Carol laughed softly.
"Come on, honey, I'll get you some food," Carol led the boy off, offering a hand for him to hold onto. He regarded her hand warily, and instead followed her at a slight distance.
Lori turned to Rick, and let out a breath. "He's so young, Rick. Where did you find him?"
He pulled her in for an embrace, and then explained what had happened, his wife gasping openly and putting a hand over his mouth as he spoke. "… So we brought him back here. There was no way that we could have left him out there."
"Oh God, the poor boy…" Lori cast another despairing look over at the child, who was crouched in the dirt a few feet away from Carol, seemingly unwilling to move any closer to her. Rick could see that the woman was still talking to him, holding out various cans of food, but it seemed to be of no avail.
"He hasn't spoken yet. We don't even know his name."
A few hours later, and the kid was still hunched over on the ground, not speaking. The plate of food that Carol had made up for him was sitting on the ground in front of him, untouched. Rick had watched him stare at the meal for a few minutes, only blinking at Lori when she tried to coax him to eat, before tracing patterns in the dust.
Hershel had come out to see the boy, confirming to Rick that he didn't know him, and had attempted to examine the small child for injuries. When he had tried to get close though, the boy had scrambled back, eyes wide and dark, and the man had paused. Instead, he had just looked the boy over, proving Rick right in his assumption that the boy was too thin for his age, and that he was most likely dehydrated after being in the forest for an unknown amount of time.
They had left a big bottle of water next to his plate of food, and a tall glass of orange juice that had come from the house. Maggie had added a twisty straw in the hope that it might make the beverage more appealing to the child.
No dice, though.
Eventually, Carol had shooed away everyone who had gathered close to see the reclusive boy. She, Lori, and Rick had remained by the campfire, scattered around, but not too close to the boy. Shane, Andrea, and Dale had retreated to the RV, Hershel and his family had gone back to the house, and Glenn was in the middle of what looked like a deep conversation with Maggie out of earshot.
Rick conversed with his wife quietly, while Carol read her book, glancing up at the boy every few minutes. He seemed to be engrossed in his little dirt patterns though.
"Walker!" Andrea screamed from the top of RV, where she had been keeping watch. "Walker!"
Rick leapt up, grabbing his handgun and glancing over at the child. He had frozen in his drawing, and when Rick looked closer, his hand was shaking where it was hanging in the air over the ground. "Lori," He said quietly, and she looked up, immediately knowing what he meant. She went slowly over to where he was crouched, and knelt down beside him.
As he ran towards the fields, Rick could hear her gentle reassurances fading away. Shane was on his heels, doing some kind of loping run because of his ankle, and Glenn and T-Dog weren't far behind. They all carried various weapons in their hands, ready to do what had to be done. To protect the camp.
But when he got closer and stopped, the walker halted too, seeming to stare at Rick through the layers of blood, dirt, and sweat that covered it. There was a large bloodstain on its left side, something dragging behind it, and Rick raised his gun, levelled straight at its head. The walker lifted its head, and seemed to sneer at him. Rick's finger itched to pull the trigger, but something stopped him. "Is that… Daryl?" Someone behind him breathed, and the suddenly he saw it.
"That's the third time you've pointed that thing at my head. You goin' to pull the trigger, or what?"
Rick lowered the weapon in relief, and let out laugh. The others around them relaxed, and chuckled. For a moment, everything was fine.
Then a shot rang out, loud and clear, and all five of them ducked instinctively. The second that Rick was sure that he wasn't hit, he whirled around, knowing the shot had come from the house, and waved his arms around.
"No!" He yelled as loud as he could, "NO!"
Around him, the others were staring to raise their heads, from where they had ducked on the ground with their hands over their heads. Shane was the next up, waving to the group back at the campsite to stop. "What the hell?" Glenn cried as he picked himself off the ground where he had dived upon hearing the gunshot.
"Daryl, you okay, man?"
It was T-Dogs question that got all of their attention though. The man was kneeling in the grass, looking as though he might keel over onto his face at any moment. Rick scanned him for bullet wounds or any new bloodstains as he dropped down beside him, but then he realised how big the bloodstain was on Daryl's left side, and he cursed himself silently for not realising how injured Daryl could be.
"You bit?" Shane asked roughly as he knelt down beside him as well, trying to get a better look at the wound on his side, "You bit, man?" Daryl raised his eyes up to meet Shane, eyes that were trying to mask all the hurt and pain that was trying to shine through, and shook his head.
"Wouldn't come back if I were bit," He ground out, and that seemed to be enough for Shane.
Shane's large hands tried to pry away the material that was covered in blood, attempting to get a better look at Daryl's wound, but the other man let out a grunt of pain, and tried to push him away, "Fell down a fuckin' ridge. Got impaled on one'a my arrows. Pulled th'fuckin' thing out, but still hurts like a bitch..."
Glenn winced in sympathy, but Rick wasted no time, "We've got to get you to Hershel. Now." Trying to be as gentle as possible, he and Shane lifted the man up by his arms, and slung one of each of their shoulder. Daryl tried to protest, but the words had no sting, and Rick simple ignored him, staring to walk along briskly.
For a few metres, Daryl tried to walk, but he couldn't keep up with their pace, and eventually just gave up. His feet dragged along on the ground limply, and his head hung forward.
Rick exchanged a look with Shane, and they quickened their pace.
Andrea met them halfway, and was almost in tears when she saw the lifeless looking figure of Daryl. "Oh God, he's dead… Oh God, I killed him! Oh God—"
"He's not dead," Rick said sharply, "And you didn't shoot him, he got injured in the woods. We have to get him to Hershel."
"You can't shoot fer shit, blondie," Daryl drawled weakly, and he even managed to bark out a laugh. But then the harsh and painful laughter turned into a groan, and he went quiet again. Andrea looked up at Rick with tearful eyes, but he could give her no assurances.
When they had nearly reached the house, a convey of sorts was following, and Hershel could be seen storming out of his house, "What on earth is going on here?" He boomed, Maggie and Beth right on his heels. Even Jimmy could be seen in the backround, looking on anxiously. No one really knew what was going on.
Rick glanced over to Lori, who was standing with the boy over at the campfire, looking scared and worried. She was holding the small boy back with both hands braced on his shoulders, Carl hovering nervously beside them.
Then they came closer, and the kid suddenly screamed. He bucked Lori off with all his weight, and started to barrel towards Rick, Daryl, and Shane with all his speed.
Daryl just managed to look up as the child collided with him, and suddenly he was pulling his arms free of Rick and Shane, and reaching down to embrace the kid. Then he was falling to his knees, the child enclosed in his arms, his head buried in Daryl's dirty neck.
In front of everyone watching in pure shock, Daryl lurched forward onto the ground, still holding the boy tightly.
The kid was crying.
Rick even thought that he saw Daryl crying, but he couldn't get a proper glimpse of his face, as it was hidden in the kid's mop of hair.
"Fuck, kid… Oh God, fuck, I thought I'd lost you…" Daryl was mumbling as he hugged the child with all his might. Then he was trying to sit up, pushing back the boy's hair so he could get a better look at his face, and he was pushing the kid back to try and get a good look at him, "Fuck… Thank God… You have no idea how much I… Fuck…"
Then Rick crouched down to them, his face one of total amazement, the boy scrambling back into Daryl's arms as Rick came closer. "Daryl… What—How do you know this kid? Is he your…?"
Everyone was thinking the same thing. Did Daryl have a kid that he hadn't told anyone about? Daryl fucking Dixon… a father?
His voice was thin with poorly veiled pain when he spoke, but the elation was plain, "S'my nephew, Dean. He's, uh, Merle's kid." Daryl looked away from Rick when he said his brother's name, and Rick felt a stab of guilt. He had left this kid without a father, in the middle of a damn apocalypse.
Just as Rick was about to say something, an apology maybe, Dean knocked his arm against Daryl's side, and the man let out an agony filled moan, which he quickly tried to stifle.
At this, Hershel came right over to the two on the ground, took one look at Daryl, and said, "We need to get you in the house immediately." Rick paused for a moment, intending to leave some time for Daryl to complain a bit, and then help him up, but no protests came.
He must be really hurt.
The boy, Dean, started to cry again when Shane and Rick heaved Daryl upright, and Lori came running up to hold him back from where he was trying to cling to Daryl's leg. Daryl seemed to have drifted off into some sort of lethargic state, but he still struggled to lift his head, "Kid stays with me," He slurred, "Dean, you stick close t'me, y'hear?"
Dean nodded, and managed to squeeze into the small space between Shane and Daryl. He then hung one finger out of Daryl's belt loop on his trousers, and rested his head against Daryl's side. It was possibly the cutest, and the saddest thing that Rick seen in a while.
The child had no one else left.
They got Daryl onto the bed in the spare room as quick as they could, earning a groan of pain from Daryl, whose face was getting paler by the second, his jaw clenched shut. He still managed, in his pain filled state, to pat the space to the right of him on the bed, "Dean," The boy clambered up on bed, and curled himself into a ball, snuggled up against Daryl's right shoulder, "You stay there, y'hear, an' don't be makin' a disturbance of yerself."
Rick had to smile when Dean nodded, and pressed his head into Daryl's shoulder. His small body relaxed completely for the first time since Rick had known him, and his wide blue eyes were free of wariness and fear as they drifted closed.
Then Hershel was cutting off Daryl's undershirt, and they were all gaping at the blood and dirt encrusted wound that greeted their eyes. Hershel's first order of business was to get a basin of water and roughly scrub the dirt away from the wound. This looked like it was pure agony, and Daryl bit down on his lip, squeezing his eyes closed.
Dean sensed his uncle's distress, and opened his eyes, to see blood flowing out of the garish wound once again, as Hershel hardened his face and worked to get the dirt off Daryl. His eyes then flickered up to Daryl's scowl of pain, and he let out a small whimper, his lower lip wobbling. At this, Daryl opened his eyes, a stoic mask slamming into place, and he reached up with his free right hand, his left fisted into a knuckle breaking grip on the sheets underneath him, and coughed out a laugh.
"Yer gonna havta get clean too, Dean, so don't think that I can't see that layer of dirt over ya." Dean sniffed, and gave his uncle a watery smile, "Don't cry, Dean. I wanna see ya be brave. Remember what I told ya? Dixons never cry."
Daryl's eyes stared into the young boy's, and for a moment, Rick felt like he was intruding upon something special.
Then Dean sprang up into a sitting position, and started to talk, "I 'member, Daryl. An' I told it ta Sarah, th' lady that found me in the woods, a coupla weeks ago. I said, 'Dixons don't cry,' cause it's true, but she said that it was okay to cry sometimes, but I said no, cause we don't cry, do we, uncle Daryl? Cause we're tough, an' nothin' scares you, does it? I told Sarah that, and she said that everyone's scared 'a somethin', but I said no, cause everyone else is just'a pussy, and then—"
Shane let out a snort of laughter at the language coming from the kid's mouth, and Hershel paused in his task of flushing the wound, to glare at Daryl. The boy paused, and looked at Daryl, confused as to why everyone had reacted to his story.
"S'okay, Dean," Daryl grunted, looking over at Rick, who was trying his hardest not to smile. "I don't even understand these damn people most'a the time."
The kid giggled at that, but then he frowned, and sobered, "Daryl, where's my daddy? Is he here too? Cause you two always are together, an' I haven't seen him in ages, an' I miss him. Even if he doesn't really like me sometimes. But I still wanna see him."
"First things first, kid, Merle loves ya. I know he's a tough bastard sometimes, but he does love ya, y'hear? Jus' like I do," Dean nodded, reaching down to hug Daryl again, before sitting back up patiently, "Now, here's the thing. A few weeks ago, me an' your daddy got separated, an' I don't know where he is." The boy's eyes were filling with tears, but he scrubbed them furiously away, and tried to put on a brave face, "But if I know yer daddy, an' I do, kid, he's fine. We jus' gotta find him again, an' then everything's gonna be fine again, y'hear?"
"But… if you don't know where he is, how're we gonna find him?"
Daryl let out a hiss of pain then, turning his head to glare at Hershel, "Ow, son of a bitch! Take it easy there, old man, I don't need ya tearing my whole fucking side off now."
"I'm sewing you back up, so keep still," Hershel chastised, and did another stitch.
Seeming to restrain himself from giving a retort back to Hershel, Daryl looked back at Daryl, "I've been lookin', kid. But Merle's a crafty bastard, an' he's probably tryin' ta find us too, so it won't be too long, okay? An' if it is a long time till we see him, then that'll be fine too, cause we'll have each other. You with me?"
Dean nodded, and lay down beside Daryl again, his small fingers tracing random patterns on his uncle's arm. "Uncle Daryl?" He got a grunt in response, "Are we gonna be okay here? Cause… Sarah said that we were safe in the woods, but then a bad person got her, an' then—" The boy stopped abruptly, and grabbed Daryl's forearm tightly, "An' then— an' then I gave her a hug, but then she—There was a—she took out the gun that I had taken from my house, and—"
Even though he hadn't been there, or been told the story, Rick knew that Daryl could guess what had happened next.
"D'ya trust me, Dean." The kid nodded furiously, looking insulted that Daryl would even ask such a question, "Well ya know that I'm not gonna let anythin' happen to ya. I gotcha now, and I ain't never gon' let anythin' hurt ya. S'you and me now, kid."
Dean went quiet after that, and seemed content to just curl up on the bed, one hand clutching Daryl's arm tightly.
Just as Hershel finished with the wound on Daryl's torso, Lori knocked on the door softly, "I was just wondering if Dean needed anything?" Hearing the words, Dean shook his head, and pressed it into Daryl's neck, so Lori spoke directly to Daryl, "He hasn't eaten anything since Rick and Shane brought him back, and he hasn't had anything to drink either. We've tried to get him to have something, and Hershel tried to have a look at him, but he wouldn't let anyone near him."
"That true?" Dean shrugged under the weight of Daryl's gruff question, and muttered a maybe. Daryl took another look at the boy, and then frowned, "Yer covered in dirt, kid… D'ya think… Could you maybe get him inta the shower or somethin'?" He asked Lori hesitantly.
"Of course, that's no problem. We've been using the downstairs shower, so I can take him in there… and then we can get him some food afterwards. Does that sound okay, sweetie?"
Dean looked wary and cautious, but Daryl gave him a little push off the bed, "Go on, kid. I'll be right here, I'm not movin' anywhere till you get back. That there's Lori, she has a kid too, called Carl, an' she'll look after ya. I promise. You go get clean, an' have a drink, an' I'll see ya in a few minutes, okay?"
Lori beamed as she held out her hand, and Dean hesitantly took it, after a long look back at Daryl, and a sharp nod from him. "C'mon, honey, its just this way."
"You be good for Lori, now," Daryl called after him, "I want ya ta be nice ta her, and answer her if she asks ya a question!"
Then the door was closed, and he sighed loudly, letting his head thump back on the pillow in exhaustion. Hershel taped a large piece of gauze over his side, and then moved up to the top of the bed to examine Daryl's head wound.
"You're very good with him," Rick remarked, and Daryl smiled wearily.
"Thanks. He's Merle's kid, from a few years ago. He's five. His Ma lived in town closest to me, so I'd take him down ta my house sometimes, though it wasn't much of a place to be honest. Merle was around a few times when the kid was stayin' with me. He was mostly high. Or wasted."
Daryl went quiet for a few moments then, while Hershel started to clean out the gash in his hairline. "And the mother?" Shane asked, from where he was sitting down a few feet away from the bed.
Considering the question, Daryl shrugged, "Waitress in th' local titty bar, I think. Dunno. Her and Merle had a thing anyway. It was on and off for months, but th' kid came, and that was that… She was an alcoholic, but at least she had the sense ta drop th' kid on my doorstep before she went off on a bender. Once, I came back from huntin' ta find a two year old sittin' on my porch in his car seat."
Then Hershel ordered him to stop moving while he put some paper stitches in the cut, and Daryl quietened again. "What happened to his mother then? When everything… happened." Rick asked, feeling shock well up in his at this new side of Daryl Dixon that was spilling out.
"Dunno. Th' first thing that I did, when things went bad, was go ta their house, but it was empty. Neighbours all dead, car in the driveway, coupla walkers around, th' usual. I stayed fer as long as I could, but then I had ta go find Merle. I'll ask him later, I guess. Th' important thing is that he's with me now. I ain't gon' lose him again."
Rick nodded, trying to absorb this whole new person that seemed to be appearing in front of his eyes. Somehow, when he pictured Daryl before the world ended, he would never had put him with a kid. Let alone being the supportive and caring uncle, that appeared to have half raised the child. He wasn't surprised by Merle in the story, but he felt a pang of guilt when he realised how wrong that he had been about Daryl. They still had conversations when they talked about who they had lost, but when Rick thought about it, he could never remember Daryl being included in them.
In fact, he had a memory of being camped around the fire in the farm, talking about friends and parents and siblings only a few nights ago. Carol had been in the RV, crying. Daryl had sat slightly away from them all, but close enough to the fire that he wouldn't be chilled and so that he could hear, while they had the sobering conversation. If Rick remembered right, Daryl had stood up abruptly in the middle of it, and stalked off to his tent.
No one had thought anything of it. But now Rick realised that he had probably still been grieving for Dean.
So, was that okay? I'm not sure where I'm going with this yet (or if anyone will like it), so any feedback would be greatly appreciated :) If you guys like this, I'll try and have the next chapter up by next weekend, at the latest, but it kinda depends on what you all think! Hopefully you all thought this was okay.
(Oh, and for anyone whose reading my other TWD fic, Too Late for Hallelujah I'm working on the next chapter, so apologies for the wait!)
Thanks for reading,