Faith hears him before she sees him—not that he's loud or careless, just the opposite, but slayer senses are heightened, especially deep in the woods during a zombie apocalypse.
As he comes into view, he's moving with practiced stealth through the brush and leaves, retrieving his bolt from the eye socket of his kill, wiping the gore onto the leg of his pants. She watches him exact the carbon fiber back into his quiver—such a heavy-looking hand, doing everything with delicate precision.
His sharp eyes scan the woods, and his arms are as rigid as they are loose—ready for battle. He's a formidable soldier in this war. She can feel his tension and hesitation mix with that of her own and Vi's, who sidles up next to her, silent and watchful as ever.
Faith quickly takes note of four things about the man: he is alone; he's carrying enough meat to feed at least eight people with current apocalyptic appetites and sensibilities; he is well-equipped and resourceful, if filthy and blood-soaked; and he knows he's being watched.
"Don't know who ya are, but I don't have a reputation for sharin' or patience, so ya best show yourselves now—get it over with," he calls out in that lazy, backwoods drawl that Faith has yet to get used to during her stint in Georgia.
He shifts his crossbow and his weight. Faith and Vi consider their next moves.
"Choice's yours," he continues, reaching back into the quiver for another bolt and easily laying eyes and leveling his weapon on the area from where the women have been surreptitiously analyzing his every step.
Faith moves first, her own weapon raised and aimed as she emerges from the lush foliage of their hiding place. Vi follows, toting a sleek, but heavy-duty spear.
In addition to the small brunette's Stryker crossbow, the two women are armed with a massive amount of hand-to-hand combat weapons: swords, brass knuckles, and knives. Neither of them is carrying a gun.
Can't weigh more'n a buck-ten and they're heftin' all that shit?
"I'm usually a shoot first, ask questions later kinda girl," Faith says. "But you've piqued my interest."
Vi simply holds her position firm at her partner's side.
They're at a stalemate, just at the edge of a fight. Daryl sizes them up, taking in the minimal information he's gathered about them since he first spotted them the day before. Even though he doesn't really know them from Eve, his gut, and their obvious skill, confirm that they'd be good people to have on his side, as opposed to having them not on his side.
Yesterday he stumbled upon them battling a small herd of walkers—maybe 30—and was mesmerized by the way they fought. He knew there was no way they weren't specially trained, and they might know something more about the walkers; now, he's thinking maybe they ain't even human. He and Rick agreed that Daryl would head out on reconnaissance today.
"What kinda questions?" he asks, stalling, but relenting as much as his instincts let him.
Faith waits two beats of a breath, sensing something about him. She also wonders how close his camp is, and what she'll have to do to get him to take them there. She has no desire—or energy, if she's being honest—to force him to; but she and Vi need a place to rest up and pull their shit together.
"Where's the rest of your group?" she asks.
Daryl continues to furtively survey the area surrounding them, wondering the whereabouts of the man he saw with them the day before. He also wonders what the girls want and need—everyone wants something these days. Regardless, he's got a crew of people and a baby counting on the bounty in his pouch, and he will not allow his camp to be infiltrated by a couple of smartass bitches with medieval weaponry.
"I need some information first," he says.
"What, are we goin' on a date?" Faith asks, and Vi lets out a brief snort of laughter. "In case you haven't noticed, Jethro, it's the end of the world. We don't have time for niceties."
"Name's Daryl," he says, realigning his bow. "And we ain't goin' nowhere, girl, together or otherwise, 'til we clear up a few things."
This is starting to feel futile to Faith, or like a fucking stupid game, and she usually likes to play for power. Yet she and Vi have been through too much the past few days, they're both too fucking tired. She doesn't feel like playing right now.
Just as Faith starts to respond, Vi steps in. "I'm Vi, and this is Faith." Vi's much more diplomatic than Faith was willing to be. "We're not from around here. We lost one of ours yesterday, and now we're looking to find a place to rest up and regroup."
Faith keeps a keen eye on Daryl's movements, and hopes for further indication of the vibe she's getting from him. The sense of familiarity about him—energy, a scent—is driving her up a fucking tree, but she's too exhausted to pinpoint what it is.
"Doesn't seem to be a lot of options around here," Vi continues, trying to prompt Daryl to throw them a bone, or stand down, or, if he's smart, run away.
"Not a lot," Daryl mutters, then pauses briefly. "Where y'all headed?"
"Don't know yet," Faith answers, her voice sounding faint, even to her own ears. "We were trying to figure that out when…"
Without words or breaking his gaze, Daryl slowly relaxes his stance and lowers his bow. Faith looks to Vi, then mirrors his actions; but they each remain vigilant, watchful of each other's every move.
"Thank God," Vi says, almost under her breath, relaxing as well.
"Said ya lost your third." Daryl wants the girls to keep filling in the blanks for him.
But Faith is suddenly on guard again, swiftly aiming the bow right at Daryl's head.
"No one gave you any numbers, Daryl," she spits.
Vi steels herself, her gaze rapidly firing between Faith and Daryl. Daryl keeps his bow in one hand, but raises both hands in a kind of surrender. Faith is inappropriately amused by this gesture because the tiny bit she's gathered about this guy tells her he doesn't generally back down easy.
He keeps talking, though, and his breath is slow and even. "Saw ya yesterday," he admits, nodding. "From the top of the ravine. Ya had a man with ya. Was headed back to my people when I heard, and saw..."
And then it takes shape in the exhausted recesses of Faith's addled mind—she felt his presence yesterday, but her subconscious categorized him as a minor threat, just as it's doing now. She is at once humiliated and relieved by this realization.
"We've lost people, too," he continues, as he slowly slings his bow over his shoulder with just his thumb, hands remaining open, palms out. "Brothers, sisters, daughters… wives and mothers."
It's a peace offering, Faith knows it, but her wound is still too new; they just left Robin the day before in the woods. Still, she relaxes once again. She wants to trust Daryl, her instincts are telling her to do so, and she's just about tapped out of energy or caring.
"Where's your camp?" she asks again, her voice low and quiet.
She's sick of fighting, walking, talking, but there's no reason to dwell on it. What would be the fucking point? Isn't everyone exhausted these days?
Daryl watches the girls closely and quietly for a solid three seconds before Faith finally meets his steel-blue gaze again. His eyes burn through to the last bits of resistance she holds against him. The air moves around them and their breathing evens and matches up in time. Then Daryl nods, determined.
"A'right," he says, watching both girls closely. "Keep your eyes open, and follow me."
It takes almost an hour before they reach their destination. They don't come across another of the brain-dead beasts, and Daryl barely says five words. Faith still isn't sure what to expect when they reach a clearing and Daryl's focus shifts, signaling that they've arrived.
Oddly, as taciturn as he is, there's something very reassuring about him. Something that makes her feel less exposed and unstable; but there's no rational explanation for it—just sheer instinct. He's also smoking fucking hot, but Faith is wound as tight as always after days' worth of fighting, so her attraction to him isn't surprising to her.
When what appears to be a prison comes into view, Faith stops dead in her tracks and starts to laugh. "You're kidding, right?" she says, shaking her head, like there is no fucking way in Hell she's going in there, no matter how much she may or may not trust him.
"Go'n and stay out here, then," he says, as he waves his hand in a welcoming gesture, never breaking his stride. He keeps on toward the large gate that's opening slowly and narrowly; but it isn't long before Faith and Vi recognize the area is surrounded by wandering, flesh-seeking idiots, so they quickly follow Daryl toward the fence.
"Hey, man," says a guy with a handlebar mustache, as he closes the gate behind them. "Have a good hunt?"
The man looks nervous. He's eyeing Daryl's companions warily, and seems to be asking Daryl about more than hunting. Daryl just nods, though, and raises his daypack in answer; he doesn't speak or even look the other man in the eye.
AN: this fic is set post-Hounded (TWD), post post-Chosen (BTVS), and post-Not Fade Away (Angel.) However, there is no Michonne. Andrea, or Woodbury.
Disclaimer: All copyright and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. The remaining content is mine.
Faith guesses that the sudden sag in Daryl's step and drooping eyelids, now that they're behind the secured gate, are indications that Daryl's as exhausted as she is. She also notices, once again, that even with the blood, sweat, and mud, she wouldn't mind taking Daryl for a ride.
She inwardly berates herself for that thought, but she's itching for a release; it's been building exponentially since Robin's delayed return from running the most recently found slayer to the North American safe house.
Then, the subsequent attack on their camp the previous morning was the first time they'd encountered a herd that size, and she was still reeling from losing Robin so instantly. As much as beheading and ending the herd should have taken out her revenge, and had burned some of her physical energy, it had only fanned the flames of her anxiety and despondency.
"Thank you," Vi says. Faith's grateful she's said it, because it needs to be said, and she's all out of words.
"Don't thank me yet," Daryl says as he leads them across a grassy yard and through one of the building entrances.
A strange sense of calm comes over Faith, which is unexpected, considering it's a fucking prison; but she spent a considerable amount of time searching her soul for peace in a place a lot like this at one time. Things were simple then—easy. She knows that nothing will ever be that simple again, but she'll take the false sense of security the environment lends to her if it means just one night, or hour, of uninterrupted sleep.
Many thanks to moojuicey, onelilhopeful, and einfach_mich for helping me talk through these plot points and ideas. Thanks to MsKathy for her red pen.