Rick's boy is shivering by the nearly dead fire.
Rick's wife is still glaring at Rick like she doesn't know who he is anymore, rubbing ineffective circles in the boy's back like that's gonna do something for him. 'Stead of gettin' off her ass and fetching a blanket, maybe. Goddamn, this group is something else.
T-Dog's taken a position on top the highest wall, his expression determined but his eyes dartin' like a trapped animal's, searching the pitch-blackness between the trees.
Carol is half collapsed, weeping like she always is nowadays. Hershel's girls - shit if he even recalls their proper names just then - are right there with her in the dirt, looking like the world's ended all over again.
Rick and Glenn and Hershel are arguing. Andrea's name comes up again, because no one in this group can leave an argument done with after one go. Not like they could go back now, even if there was any point. Cars are running on fumes and there's a goddamn herd of walkers back where they came from. What's there to argue over?
No one mentions Sophia. Not even Carol. She just weeps.
Even if there was any chance Sophia had still been out there before the herd came through, just lost and not dead or walking, she wouldn't be now. And let's be real honest - there never was much chance. Even Carol knew it. Damn, even he knew it, and he forced himself to hold on to that fading chance longer'n the damn girl's own damn mother.
"Gonna walk the perimeter."
Rick looks up sharply. He nods once and goes right back to his argument with Glenn and Hershel.
The crossbow is already growing heavy in his arms by the time he leaves the small circle of light around camp and plunges into the shadows. He's been awake some twenty, maybe even close to thirty hours now, and he's been feeling it a while.
Three walkers down and he's sloshing through a shallow stream, making himself focus even if there's a nasty bit of blurriness encroaching on the corners of his vision.
Four walkers down.
The main herd is back at the farm, maybe moving away from them or maybe moving toward them, but this ain't it. These walkers look like locals, like the ones in the barn - farmer-types that stuck around the same place they'd lived and died and turned.
Five walkers down. He retrieves the arrow and sways a little as he straightens from a crouch, vision blurring again and the stitch that's been growing in his side throbbing sharply like there's a goddamned arrow stuck through him again.
He leans up against a tree and takes some steadying breaths, but it's no good. His head feels only slightly better'n the time he took a swig out of a beer bottle, only to find it weren't no beer but Pa's own special blend white lightning. And even Merle didn't touch Pa's shitty moonshine too often.
At least it's almost morning. One more round, he reckons, and then he can head back to camp and let someone else take care of walker watching for a bit, 'stead of sittin' 'round like bumps on a log. Goddamn but most of them are worse than useless, even when there ain't one walker in sight and there ain't no one askin' them to do more'n watch their own damn kid.
The sky's been growing lighter over however many damn hours he's been stalking the edges of the camp. He can see a good three or four yards around him now, and the trees in these parts aren't as thick. Nothing's moved in at least an hour.
Shouldn't have said that. Damn these things, always comin' outta nowhere.
He leaves the arrow in the walker's skull, not wanting to risk another bout of dizziness when he can hear twigs snapping in the same direction the walker came from.
Should've headed back to camp at first sign of dawn. Should know his own limits by now. Should've taken notice when exhaustion started to hit him real bad.
He reloads. Six arrows left and unless the herd comes through that's plenty to take out these stragglers even if he has to leave a few more stuck in them.
There's one right behind him, and when he turns to shoot it the dizziness overcomes him and he smacks his elbow into a tree, hard, sending a jolt of agony right up his shoulder and from there up his neck and down his spine until he can hardly draw a breath in. When he does finally draw one, it makes a noise somewhere between a whistle and a howl, like some wounded animal.
Even with his arm barely more functional than a straw-stuffed sack, he pegs the walker right in the mouth. From this close, it'd take more'n having to shoot one handed to make him miss... even if he had been aimin' for the eyes.
The recoil jostles his arm and the pain is almost blinding.
Merle would have a thing or two to say about how he almost loses hold of the crossbow and doubles over with his nose nearly to the dirt.
He manages to get his footing back and to stand upright again before Merle's voice in his head does more'n call him a pussy.
Another walker stumbles out of the darkness, and he freezes before he can even raise his crossbow half-way. The breath he just managed to draw into his lungs comes wheezing out again, tearing his throat raw.
Another walker, and another, but he's still standing there like he's turned to stone. All three of them are moving in on him, arms outstretched, jaws gapin' and ready to rip into him.
Even in the semi-dark the patch of bright blue fabric draws his eyes like it's the goddamn sun at noon.
At some point his survival instinct finally kicks in and he aims and shoots one walker down. Reloads. Aims again. Presses the trigger and feels the recoil of the crossbow again. Only this time it feels like he's getting shot through the goddamn chest.
Reloads. Shoots the last one. Almost misses, his whole body vibrating. Tries to reload again with his hands shaking so bad he almost drops the crossbow.
The woods are so silent now he can hear his own heart beating.
When nothing else comes lunging at him, he does what he has to, even if what he wants to do is turn the other way and run like the devil and Merle and Pa are after him.
She's face down right where she pitched forward in between the tree roots.
Well, that ain't right, is it? Arrow through the head should've knocked her back.
The back of her head ain't nothin' but mud and matted, rotted hair. No wound that he can see.
Damn these things.
It ain't Sophia. Not anymore. It's just one of the damned things. Dead and half rotted. Not Sophia. Not anymore.
He points his crossbow, trying to keep it real steady when his shaking hands won't cooperate. Prods her with his foot, then gives her a harder nudge to flip her over, her limbs flopping like rags. Steps back quickly, out of reach.
The force of his kick makes her eyelids flutter open, and the milky white reflects the light in a way that sends a shiver down his spine. The walkers' clouded eyes are the worst part of 'em, so far as he's concerned. Remind him too much of his Pa the night he finally drank himself to death and sat at the table just starin', and Daryl bein' too damn scared to move with those eyes on him like that, sitting there all night until Merle comes home and tells him Pa's been dead all that time and there wasn't nothin' to be scared of. 'Course, that was back before there was somethin' to be scared of when someone up and dropped dead like that.
There ain't much left of her, so far as he can see in the little light there is. Blue shirt ain't hardly blue now - maybe he only imagined seeing bright blue before - and it's been ripped from the collar all the way down the sleeve, hanging off one shoulder. Might be indecent, except there ain't nothin' to see but sharp bones sticking out, covered in mud and dirt. That whole side's all ragged, like it's been gnawed on from the neck down.
He squints, trying to make the most of the available light, and still can't see his arrow anywhere in her.
Well, ain't that real peachy. 'Cause now he's gonna have to do it again. Gonna have to pull the trigger from point blank while standing right over her.
He stands and stares a while. Keeps his finger on the trigger the whole time.
Starts to think he oughtter bring her back to camp, maybe. There's somethin' to bury now, and not just a doll. No wondering anymore if she's out there, lost or roamin'. That's gotta be on Carol's mind, even if she did want to go through with that doll burial back at the farm, pretending like that was just gonna be the end of it, just like that.
Well, how's he gonna do it? Stumblin' through a forest at night, walkers all over the damn place, carryin' one in his own damn arms?
He's gonna have to do it soon, whatever it is. His vision hasn't improved any, that's for sure, and his injured arm is starting to stiffen in a way that means he's gettin' mighty close to becoming walker chow.
Well, shit, Dixon.
He swears that was Merle he heard. Almost looks around for him.
Last time he thought he was talking to Merle he damn near died, so it ain't a real good sign so far as he's concerned.
Twigs snap behind him.
By the time he whips around again, damn near breaking his fingers trying to reload faster'n humanly possible, there ain't much room in his mind for starin' or thinkin' anymore, just movin'. He's got his jacket off and twisted around her, arms pinned and layers of leather over the jaws, then he's got her around the chest so hard he feels decaying bones cracking under the pressure, hoists her under his good arm like a sack of potatoes, and starts limping back to camp.
A dead little girl.
By the time he starts to think maybe he shouldn't be doing this, his side's got a stitch in it so bad he can't catch his breath. His breathing makes so much noise he reckons every walker for miles can hear it, and he's taking them right back to camp.
He can see the flickering firelight through the trees, but doesn't need it now that sunlight is filtering through the leaves above. He can hear them movin' around, getting breakfast started maybe, or gettin' ready to go on a supply run, or startin' another argument.
It occurs to him suddenly what this'll look like from their side - him staggerin' into camp covered in blood and wheezin' and chokin' and draggin' a walker - but too late, because he's already there. He's stunned, really, that someone doesn't take a shot at 'im right then and there, 'cause there must be at least four guns pointed at 'im.
They wouldn't miss, either, he'd bet good money.
Another wheeze and he doubles over coughin' like it's his last breath, chest constricting and everythin' threatenin' to go black.
Someone's ripping the walker out of his arms, but he can't let go for some reason, until someone's got him around the neck and drags him backwards and damn near off his feet.
Wheezes some more. Shakes his head. Wheezes and coughs.
The arm loosens from around his neck. Doesn't help any - he still can't get a damn breath in his damn lungs.
Somehow he's in his own tent - don't recall ever settin' it up, either, so someone in the group's been touching his shit without permission - and flat on his back on his sleeping bag. One of the women - the one Glenn's banging and damn if he still can't think of her damn name - is scrubbing at him with a wet cloth.
He cracks an eye open again and focuses it on T-Dog. Reckons T-Dog's the one who choked him 'til he passed out. Now he's got a gun on him, lookin' real untrusting between him and the woman.
"There's nothing. I'm sure."
He hears a click. Safety back on, he reckons.
Well, shit. Didn't get shot this time, after all.
"Dixon? Hey, man -"
He thinks he passed out then, because when he cracks open his eyes again there ain't no one there anymore.
The arguing on the other side of the tent walls is at a fevered pitch. He can't even make out what they're sayin' - they're all yellin' at the same time even more'n usual.
Someone's screamin'. Someone else is tellin' them to shut it before they bring every walker for miles down on the camp. Like the yellin' ain't loud enough to do it.
If that happens he thinks he might just lie here and let 'em gnaw on him.
He feels like shit.
He tries to remind himself what he was thinking back there in the woods that made him do it. Made him bring her back to camp 'stead of putting her down like he should've done, and not tell anyone - not ever.
Y'all wanted to find her, well, I found her, didn't I? Just like I said I would.
Didn't even stop lookin' after y'all buried her - her doll, anyway. I found that, too, didn't I? Took an arrow for that little girl, tryin' to find her. Took a bullet.
Still looked even with the herd coming through. Looked at every damn walker I could lay my eyes on.
He's hallucinating Merle again. Merle's sitting there in the corner of the tent, half-hidden in the shadows, grinnin' at him.
Couldn't put 'er down yerself, could 'ya? Told 'ya tha's what these people'd do to 'ya, lil brother. Couldn't put a walker down - shit, ain't 'ya a bleedin' heart now, Darlena.
Merle grins and shakes his head, reaching to pat Daryl on the arm like he used to do when Daryl was little, just before a real good ass-kicking for whatever it was Daryl had done that time.
He wants to throw the hand off and tell Merle to fuck off, but... well, he's right, ain't he?
Brought her back just so someone else would have to put her down, like Andrea had to put her own sister down.
Just so I ain't made a liar.
Said I'd find her, and ain't she been found? Good as my word. God as my witness.
He waits for Merle to say something else, but Merle's gone. Said his piece and up and left him alone with his bruises and sores and welts - just like always.
His eyes are still open - probably, anyway - but there's nothin' but blurry blackness in front of 'em. It's starting to fill his head, too, so he finally can't even hear the screamin' and yellin' anymore.
He can still hear Carol's voice though. She ain't screamin' or yellin'. Just repeating her dead little girl's name over and over 'til she's starting to go hoarse.
Damn. You really are a worthless piece of shit, Daryl Dixon.
That statement doesn't come in Merle's voice like usual, but it feels more like a punch to the gut than ever.
He closes his eyes and lets himself drift off... until he wakes up and everything's so damn clear he wishes he could pass out all over again.
He found Carol's little girl.
Found her roaming the woods, worse than dead, and didn't have the sense to put her down and let that be the end of it.
Brought her to camp.
Brought her for Carol to see just exactly what had become of her lost little girl, like it wasn't enough she'd buried her once already.
Brought her so someone else'd have to put her down, 'stead of him.
He lies very still and listens. The camp's real quiet.
Maybe they've up and left while he was sleeping.
Wouldn't blame 'em one damn bit if they had.
"They back yet?"
Guess they haven't left, judging by the fact he can hear T-Dog's voice an' all. The way something in his gut sinks sure feels like disappointment.
'Cause now he's gonna have to come out of his tent and face 'em.
He thinks he'd rather face some more walkers. One-armed and on his last arrow.
"Not yet. We should start packing. Rick's really set on getting us moving before night."
"Hershel say anything about that?"
He notices just then that his arm's bandaged up and bundled in a sling, held loosely against his body. Hershel must've patched him up at some point, even if he can't recall it.
"Well, he won't be riding that bike any time soon. Let's make sure there's room in the back of the truck for it. Maybe load it up."
"No, man, you know how he gets when someone touches that bike."
Yeah, don't touch my shit.
He swallows and grits his teeth around a twinge of pain as he pulls himself upright. Almost falls back as the dizziness returns with a vengeance. He has to rip the sling off and lean on his injured elbow to get himself up, finally.
From the sound of it, someone's off on a supply run. It ain't T-Dog and Glenn, so he does some quick calculating and reckons it must be Rick and Maggie. He remembers her name perfectly now, her and her sister Beth. Makes him wonder what was wrong with him the night before. Somethin' must've been real wrong with his head.
He stops himself before he can start making excuses for what he'd done. Nothin' was wrong with his head and nothin's good enough to excuse what he's done.
"I think he's awake."
No shit. Did the tent flap unzipping give it away?
They watch him stumbling out. He avoids looking in their direction.
"Hey, Dixon -"
He makes some sort of growl in his throat, not really meaning to, and T-Dog falls back to just watching.
A look around shows him his crossbow leaning against Merle's bike. A couple of arrows are near it. They've been cleaned, all shiny.
That someone bothered to do that while he was out makes him more angry than anything. That's the sort of thing you do for people you care about. People you want to have around you.
They're still watching. He can feel their eyes on him.
Bike's clean enough to show a good reflection, so he sneaks a look.
Glenn's got a bandage around his head, which answers the question why he's at the camp and not off on the supply run.
On second thought, they're standing next to a pile of stuff he doesn't recognize as anything they had time to drag off the farm before everything went to shit, including bright red gas cans, so maybe he's got this all wrong and there ain't no supply run.
That'd explain the quiet in the camp. Rick and Maggie ain't off on any supply run. The whole lot of 'em must be off buryin' Carol's little girl all over again, and these two are just the ones left to watch camp. And to watch his worthless ass, too, like it matters if walkers come through and chew him up while he sleeps.
He sinks down next to the bike. Behind it, really, facing away from them so he can stare straight ahead and not have 'em in his line of sight. Leans against the side-bag, feeling the leather cool and smooth on the back of his head. Closes his eyes after a while of starin' at the trees.
Of course they don't take this as a hint to fuck off and leave him be. A tin cup of something hot appears on the ground next to his hand.
At least they don't try to say nothin'. He ain't ready to hear it.
He drinks the shit that's supposed to pass for coffee and tries to ignore 'em.
He can feel they haven't gone away, though. Must be Glenn, 'cause he didn't hear no footsteps at all, and T-Dog's too heavy to move silently like that.
A hand coming down on his shoulder makes him flinch like he's been scalded - and that's before he makes the mistake of lookin' up and sees who that hand's attached to. Last damn person on the goddamn Earth that he wants to be face to face with, and that's including all the goddamn walkers.
His flinch threw her hand off him, and now she's hugging herself, fingers leaving white spots on her upper arms.
"Got summin' ter say?"
Tha's righ', 'cause tha's wha' Daryl Dixon does when somethin's upset him. Lashes out at someone else. Someone he's wronged. An' his drawl's worse'n Merle's, for fuck's sake, his tongue tied in knots in 'is mouth. Always happens when he's scared outta his goddamn mind.
Yeah, nothin' new here, jus' Daryl fuckin' Dixon bein' the worthless shit he's always been.
She's fiddlin' with her hands like she don't know what to do with 'em. Her eyes keep jumpin' from him to the side-bag he's leanin' up against.
Finally she clears her throat and says, in a real small voice, "I don't know if you still have it, but I -"
He stiffens, suddenly connecting the dots.
Shit. She knows.
If he hadntof just done somethin' worse, this'd make him squirm real good.
"If - I mean - I thought -" She trails off again, her fists balling the hem of her shirt. Tries again after taking a real jerky breath. "If you still have it, could I get Sophia's doll?"
He gets to his feet so fast she steps back, away from him, just like she should.
The doll's at the bottom of the bag, filthy from having been buried. Merle's stash, what's left of it, comes tumbling out, along with a couple of cigarettes, rags, and a knife he's been meanin' to sharpen.
He thrusts the doll at her. Can't get it out of his hands quick enough.
She hugs it to her chest, streaking her skin with dirt.
"I wouldn't have said anything. I was happy to let you have it. Something of Sophia." She smiles her crooked smile. "But I needed to try, in case you still had it."
He takes a step away from her. That smile ain't normal.
"This doll's real special to Sophia..." She hugs the doll tighter, silent for a few moments. "If you're feeling well enough, come to the big tent. Hershel's got to look at your arm again, anyway."
He says nothin'. Can't.
She waits a moment or two, then reaches for his shoulder again.
He flinches back - almost falls over - making her hand freeze a few inches from his skin.
She drops it and half turns away. "Sorry. I keep forgetting you don't want to be touched. Truth is -" Her shoulders hunch, then drop. "Truth is, I'm so grateful to you I -"
She stops again. He reckons it must be 'cause the look on his face is somethin' awful.
Without any warning she thrusts the doll at him, and his instinct to head off a punch to the gut makes him snatch it out of her hand before he can think.
She starts walking off, leaving him and the doll standin' there starin' after her like she's gone mad.
After a few minutes he gives himself a shake and looks around to see who's staring at him, watching all this madness go down.
Turns out no one is.
He can see T-Dog with the shotgun, back up on the wall, not even looking his way - or pretending he's not. There's no one else anywhere in sight.
He starts toward where Carol disappeared around a corner, and runs smack into Glenn instead.
The way Glenn pales and then reddens at the sight of the doll in his hands, he reckons he knows who ratted him out to Carol, but it ain't like it matters any, now.
Jumpy kid don't even let him finish, he's that eager to get away.
"Big tent. Listen, Daryl, everyone -"
But he ain't interested in listening just then. He just wants to catch up to Carol, get the doll off his hands, hop on Merle's bike and get the fuck out.
Yeah, that's right. I'm done. I'm done with all of them. All of this.
They don't need him and his special Dixon brand of bullshit.
He sure as fuck don't need them. Craziest damn bunch of fuckers he's ever met, and that's sayin' somethin' after the way he grew up. He should've been on his way long ago. If it hadn't been for lookin' for Sophia...
So fuck this. I'm done.
He stomps into the big tent without looking where he's stepping.
Almost trips over Hershel.
"You shouldn't be up, son," Hershel says, eyeing his arm. "That was dislocated. Ought to keep the sling on for a few days."
He hates bein' called that. Any time Pa started throwin' son around, it was never followed by anythin' good.
"Didn't come in here for no doctorin'." He brandishes the doll and steps around Hershel. "Carol, you -"
Well, fuck me.
They cleaned her up. Put a bullet through her brain and a real pretty scarf 'round 'er head to hide the hole.
"You can put that down right there, son. I'll make sure -"
He thinks Hershel keeps right on talkin', but his voice just sort of fades away behind the sound of Daryl's heart beatin' in his throat.
'Cause he's followed the curve of her neck down her shoulder and arm, where she used to look like a bite's been taken out of her but now just looks scratched and bruised, and he's looking at her small hand lyin' on top of the blanket, with every fingernail torn off so there ain't nothin' but bloody stubs. And he swears those fingers are twitching.
That's it. He's leavin'. Not waitin' to give the damn doll to Carol, or for Rick to get back to camp, or nothin'.
'Cause this fuckin' group's broken in a way there ain't no way to fix. He should've known nothin' good'd come from joinin' up with people who think walkers ain't no different from sick folks, and stuff a barn full of 'em not fifty yards from where they're sleeping.
He steps forward and puts the doll down on the blanket. He's just gonna take one real quick look, so his last memory isn't of her lyin' muddy and bloody in the dirt, but cleaned up and with her doll next to her.
Too late he sees her eyelids flicker. Too late not to see those unfocused eyes full of broken capillaries that ruin the illusion.
The hand with the bloody stubs curls into a claw and reaches for him, 'cause of course he kept his damn hand on the damn doll like he can't let it go.
Just before he can get scratched he shoves the doll at her, so her grasping fingers curl around it instead of his wrist. Then he tries to move back, only to stumble into Hershel like the old man's an immoveable wall.
If Hershel ain't gonna move, Daryl ain't above shoving him aside, 'cause -
"Thank you... Mr... Dixon."
His mind's suddenly emptier than Pa's bottle of cheap Jack the mornin' after payday.
"Son, now you have a seat and let me take a look at your -"
Somehow he's outside, runnin'.
Only to get tackled around the legs before he can get much farther than the treeline.
"Now, you listen here." Rick's breath is hot and wet on his face. "I don't have time to babysit you and neither does anyone else here, so you just sit."
That last part sounds enough like Merle that he finds himself doing just that - sittin' in the dirt with Rick pacing in front of him.
"I get that you had a rough time. It had to be a real shock. But I can't have you injuring any more of our people, so you're just gonna have to pull it together now." Rick stops his pacin' and stops in front of him, scrubbing a hand down his unshaved face. "Think you can do that?"
Daryl stares at him.
"We need you, damn it! This group needs you right now. We lost the RV, we've got almost no food -"
Daryl stares at him some more.
"This isn't the best time for you to fall apart, that's all I'm saying, so -" Rick narrows his eyes at him. "So you let Hershel patch you up, you let Carol say what she needs to say, and you sit your ass in the truck so we can get a move on." He pauses. "Glenn's not holding anything against you, but just so we're clear, you only get a pass on account of being delirious."
Not much makes sense, but he starts in reverse order.
"What I do to Glenn?"
Rick mops his hand over his chin again. "Fuck, Daryl. You were like a wild animal when we tried to take her from you. Glenn got a fist to the head. You called him some names I don't want to hear repeated. Just consider yourself on notice and move on. No one's blaming you."
If he hadn't given up weeks ago on figurin' this group out, he'd give up now.
Rick sucks in a breath like he'd like to lay into him good. He lets it out real slow. "Carol's afraid you're going to take her head off the moment she tries to thank you. You think we don't know how you went off on her the last time she tried? It's a small group, Daryl, everyone knows everything, for better or worse. Now, you aren't going to convince her not to be grateful."
The word echoes inside his skull. He repeats it, scoffing. "Grateful?"
"For -!" Rick reigns in the explosion and lowers his voice, glancing over his shoulder like he expects the whole camp to be listen' in. With this damn group, they probably are. "For looking for her daughter all that time. For not giving up when everyone else did. For bringing Sophia back. You think that's not something to be grateful for?"
There's a real long silence. Daryl spends it fighting with himself, trying to decide how far he's gonna lie to Rick, most of him wantin' real bad to tell him all of the truth just to see how far he can push him before he snaps.
"You know when I saw 'er -" He shakes his head a little, because he can see her, even now, like that image is burned into his brain permanently. "I thought she was one of those things."
Rick nods. "We all did. Hershel wouldn't even say one way or another until she woke up, and that was after we didn't find any bites on her. Look -"
"I shot at 'er."
Rick pauses and stares at him. "Well, she isn't shot. You miss?"
He scoffs. "I don' miss."
"Well, she isn't shot," Rick repeats. He shrugs, but he looks a bit uncomfortable. "You missed."
"Aimed and shot 'er in the head, and the two walkers with 'er." He hunches his shoulders, his injured arm protestin' somethin' awful. "She must've passed out and pitched forward while the arrow was flyin' at 'er." He darts a look at Rick, real quick, then drops his gaze back to the dirt. "I ain't never missed that kind of shot. Not from that close."
Rick says nothing for a long time. "So she got lucky. Again. Does it matter?"
"Matters to me. I ain't -" He has to swallow, suddenly. "I ain't gonna have anyone grateful -"
"Tough!" Rick leans in, eyes boring into him. "Not your choice, there. You won't convince a mother not to be grateful you brought her little girl back. You'll just look like an ass. I suggest you don't repeat that story."
He starts to shake his head, starts to draw in a breath so he can tell Rick how he kicked her, twice, smothered her, carried her like a sack of trash - but Rick's hand on his shoulder makes him freeze.
Rick must assume from that that there's some agreement between them, because he changes his tone. It goes all silky and persuasive, like Merle's when he's backed up against a wall and has to play like he's reasonable.
"We got Sophia. We're back on the road. We're low on supplies. This group needs you, Daryl. I can see you want out. I've been seeing it all along. Been expecting it, what with how your tent kept moving farther and farther away from the rest of us. I'm just saying now isn't the time. Not if you want what you've done to have any kind of meaning."
He looks up sharply. "Wha's that supposed to mean?"
"We're down three good people. Hershel can hold his own and he's going to be a real asset to this group, but that won't replace Shane, Dale, and Andrea. We have Maggie, who isn't real experienced, and Beth, who I'm sorry to say looks like she'll be useless." Rick purses his lips and looks at him real meaningfully. "We lose you now, how long do you think it's going to be before Carol loses Sophia again?"
Daryl's spent his whole entire life being manipulated by his Pa and Merle. This ain't no different. All the fighting spirit is crushed out of him, just like that, because he's learned to know when he's beat.
"I ain't goin' nowhere."
Rick looks real proud of himself, like he's pulled off a magic trick. "Let's get you back to Hershel, make sure that arm heals properly."
He lets himself be led back to camp, ignoring the eyes that latch onto him from every corner.
'Course he ain't goin' nowhere.
He's stuck with these people.
Stuck with 'em for the rest of his days, which admittedly ain't likely to be very many, with the way this damn group operates.
'Cause what else he got to do but spend the rest of his days making it up to that little girl that the moment she was finally found, after stumbling around in the woods for weeks with walkers on her tail, was also the moment goddamn Daryl Dixon aimed a crossbow at her head and pulled the trigger?