"Better Days"


Disclaimer:I don't own any Walking Dead characters. Original characters are mine

Author's Note:Well it's been a while. I read the story again and am going to try to finish it. Part of the reason I abandoned this story is because so much has changed on the show that I wondered if anyone would really care about reading something like this. But people are still reading and it makes me wonder if some fans, like myself, long for the simpler times on TWD. Thanks to those still reading. Your support means a lot. Hang in there; I'm not done yet.

Summary:Daryl and Carl go out looking for Sophia and get separated from the group. Alone with two kids, Daryl must keep his own demons at bay while protecting them from not only the dead but also a very dangerous person who has nothing to lose.

Chapter Nine

Leaves…grass…dirt…trees. They all blurred together as Daryl fought to remain conscious. Sweat dripped off his face, he struggled to breath. The strange woman was all but dragging him at this point. His legs were weak and the more he tried the more he found himself leaning into her for support. She was strong though, he could tell. She tripped a few times but she never let go and she never fell. In front of them he saw Carl and Sophia; Carl's gun was drawn although from what Daryl could make out the boy was really in no condition to be using it. Both the kids looked a nervous wreck and he couldn't blame them. He reckoned that he looked beyond frightening not to mention to sick sucking sound coming from the hole in his chest.

"We're almost there, just around that corner." She nodded her head ahead trying to guide Carl and Sophia while balancing Daryl against herself. He was fading fast and she knew it but she had nothing with her to fix this. So they soldiered on until Daryl couldn't anymore and his legs gave out. Falling to the path she also tripped and went to her knees. Carl whirled around, his face contorted with sheer terror as Sophia began to cry.

"Oh my God! Is he dead?" Carl rushed over and looked down at Daryl in panic.
"He's fucking dead!" The first time he had ever used the word fuck and it seemed appropriate and timely. If Daryl wasn't in a crumpled heap he might also smile at this mature slip of the tongue and congratulate himself on getting a gun and saying fuck in the same week. But this was no time for that as he haphazardly pointed the muzzle of the gun at the woman.

Pushing herself up she dusted her pants off looking more annoyed than alarmed. Reaching down she rolled Daryl over and checked for a pulse. He was alive…barely. Looking up at Carl she regarded him with a smirk.

"He's alive for now, you little shit. But if you keep pointing that at me he won't be." Her attitude flabbergasted Carl. Daryl was dying; she had no urgency. He was holding her at gunpoint; she had no fear. She was alive but dead inside. A child of Carl's maturity couldn't understand that… not yet anyway.

The woman bent down as she grabbed Daryl by the arm. Thrusting her shoulder into his mid section she was able to hoist him up onto her shoulders. Carl watched in awe. He had never seen a women be able to anything like this. Only problem now was that she needed to stand up with him on her shoulders. "Come on…come on…come on." Her voice was strained as it clearly took everything she had to stand up. Breathing out she adjusted him a little before walking. Carl and Sophia stared at her. " GO! I'm not going to be able to do this all fucking day." Carl threw a glance at her but he was met with a smirk. "You said it first." Turning back toward the trail he smiled to himself a little. Somehow Carl had managed to find himself the baddest bitch of the apocalypse. Up ahead a small cabin came into view. Excited Sophia yelled over her shoulder, "Is that it?!"

The woman grunted a yes as her legs felt like they might give out any second. She hated doing shit like this before; just a bunch of macho bullshit to blow your knees out. But what did she care if her knees hurt now. When she was done with them she was going to finish what she started today and no one was going to stop that.

Pushing the door of the cabin open Carl laid eyes on a table. Clearing it off he made a space for her to put Daryl down. Seeing this she was grateful as the weight on her shoulder shifted and she was finally able to relieve the intense burning in her back. Sophia's eyes perused the ramshackle building. It smelled funny but it was clean and it was clear that someone had been living here. Eyes falling on the mysterious woman she assumed it had been her.

Carl's eyes narrowed as he watched her unzip a black back pack and spill it out on the counter. Medical supplies, gauze, tape, needles. Her eyes clicked through what she needed as she made quick work of Daryl's new shirt from Wal-mart cutting it away from his body. The hole in his chest was still making a sucking noise as Carl's stomach turned just looking at it. Despite this, he couldn't make himself look away. Sophia, however, couldn't bear the sight. Sliding down the wall she buried her face in her hands. This wasn't happening.

The woman was sweating as it rolled down the side of her face. Her chest heaved as she struggled to catch her breath. Carl wondered if that was from carrying Daryl or because of what she had to do to Daryl. Really it was neither. As she made quick work of the sucking chest wound a sobering thought struck her. Clearly by the way these kids were acting this man meant something to them. He looked a little too young to be their father but maybe he was brother or hell even a friend. Maybe he was a stranger and that was all that they had. Regardless of his relation to them, it was apparent that he was their protector. That meant if she couldn't save him she would have to become their protector. And that was not something she wanted to do. Not even a little bit. She was dead inside… completely and utterly dead. Everyone she had ever loved was gone. Everything she had ever known was gone. She had not one reason to live and she didn't want these two kids to give her one. So he couldn't die. No way.

Daryl's vision blurred between reality and a dream like state. He saw the roof of the cabin. He saw himself running across a field. He saw the woman working on him. He saw Merle chasing him snickering. And then he saw blackness and he was running.

Merle was chasing him through the woods. Twigs slapped him in the face as he batted them down, desperate to get away. He was running and running but Merle kept chasing him. His brother had just tried to drown him in the creek and by some stroke of luck he had managed to wrestle himself free. Tripping over the slippery rocks he busted both knees open as his little hands clawed at the earth desperate to get away. He really believed that Merle was about to kill him. He held him under for so long…longer than the time before. Blood was running down his legs and he took the back steps two at a time a malicious snicker echoing behind him. Busting through the back door he was met with his daddy's fist square into his chest.

Sitting up Daryl screamed out in pain. Carl had just watched the woman shove a four-inch needle into the side of his chest. He was in a trance while she was doing it not believing what was happening. Daryl's Lazarus like reaction caused him to snap out of it as he also began screaming. On the floor Sophia pinched her eyes shut as she cried, burying her head deeper into her knees.

Daryl was shaking as he took his first easy breath in. He never thought he could be so hungry for air. His vision was blurry as his oxygen starved brain struggled to comprehend his surroundings. When he sat up the woman looked at his back to check for any other wounds. Her eyes carefully perused the scars as she was met with a hard stare from Carl. A protective look in the boy's eyes told her this was something private and she need not stare. Nodding slightly she acknowledged the bond between them. Averting her eyes away she stood in front of Daryl. His eyes searched her for some flicker of recognition. She looked like his Ma in the face but the rest of her was strong and built. Not like his Ma at all. She was whisper thin just waiting to be blown away.

"Feel better?" Daryl felt awful, he hurt all over but he could breath and that was a miracle.

Nodding he looked down at the plastic straw hanging out of his chest. Following his eyes she practically read his mind. "You had a collapsed lung from the gun shot. The needle I stuck in your chest re inflated it. That's why you can breath."

"How long?" It took a lot to form those two words. Carl's ears perked up at the sound of Daryl's voice. He never thought he'd hear it ever again.

She looked at him and laughed a little. "A few days I hope. You should be able to get back on the road." Really it was probably longer but she didn't care. A few days was all she was going to put off the inevitable. They had to go and she needed to end all this bullshit. Daryl's eyelids closed as he nodded. Suddenly he felt so tired. Seeing him about to pass out again the woman steadied him on the edge of the table. Shaking him gently he woke for a few seconds. It was enough for her to guide him over to the small bed in the corner. He looked at her, essentially helpless, as she guided him down onto the worn mattress with her arm around his shoulders.

Carl and Sophia inched their way closer as Daryl's gaze flickered to them momentarily offering them a weak smile. They wanted to touch him but they were both afraid. Instead they settled for sitting down near the bed and watching intently. Thinking back he didn't remember much of what happened. He did know that they had no supplies; no food, no water, nothing.

The woman came back over with a small basin and gauze as she proceeded to clean the wound on his chest. Her demeanor was vacant and uncaring but her hands were gentle and capable. He didn't know a thing about her but he knew that she had most likely lost everything in the world and now she was just operating on autopilot. Her mind was gone; her hands did as they had been doing for years. She didn't say a word as she tended to him lost in her own personal hell.

"You have anything for them?" Daryl gestured to the kids not wanting to be too imposing but desperate to know they had what they needed.

"A few bottles of water under the sink. A can of pasta I think also." She didn't question him as she just continued her work.

Daryl's eyes wandered to Carl as he gestured to the door. "Carl get something for you and Sophia. Go outside for a while. Take a break, ok?" Carl didn't move as he eyed the woman cautiously. Daryl tried to hide the pain he was in as he forced a half smile "I'm fine. Go ahead…take your gun, ya hear" Eventually he got up trudging over to the sink and pulling out some supplies. Hesitantly they both stepped outside as the door shut.

When they were gone Daryl closed his eyes. His voice was low when he spoke again, "Thank you." Eyes opening he searched her face for any sign of emotion. There was none.

Setting the basin aside she looked at him briefly before looking away. "You'll be fine. You have to." Pausing for a moment she inhaled deeply. "They need you."

Daryl exhaled as he looked at her for a moment. Without thinking she reached up and touched his face. Her hand was cool and gentle. Closing his eyes Daryl was eight years old again, his mother in bed holding him close, thunder rolling outside his window. He didn't know why she touched him like that or if she even did it consciously. But she could never know how comforting that simple gesture was. Relaxing he closed his eyes as sleep came quickly.

She sat back on the window ledge. Her head resting against the rotted wood as it had every night for she can't even remember how long. Peering out the window she scanned the twilight forest as exhaustion began to settle in. The kids had passed out a few hours ago on the floor as her eyes traveled over to Daryl on the bed. His breathing had slowed and he appeared to be comfortably resting. Didn't matter if he wasn't because she had no pain meds to give him. Those were gone long ago.

Exhaling loudly she let her eyes drift shut. She saw his face like always. Her partner. They had worked together for eight years. He was older than her; had been on the job for a while before she showed up. Didn't matter though they were practically made for one another. She loved him; it wasn't overtly romantic or sexual in any way. But a love that existed among comrades in battle. How many lives had they saved and lost? How many nights had they spent together not knowing when the chaos would ever end? How many tears had they cried, smiles had they shared, and laughs had they had? Too many to count for all the above. And just like they had each other's back all those years on the street, they had each other's back out here after…..after. He was gone now. Everyone was gone. And she wanted to die too. She would rather be with them than be here. As much as she wanted to block them out, memories of her life always found their way back. Haunting her…teasing her…reminding her of all that she had lost.

"What the fuck is going on? I just saw a guy literally eat someone over on Dekalb."

"I don't know…I don't know. Get some supplies and let's get the hell out of here." Pulling a bag off the rack she began throwing anything she could find into it. Behind her a hissing and moaning. Turning around she dropped the bag as she stared in horror as what could only be described as a walking corpse. Teeth snapping it lunged for her as she stepped to the side. She was literally paralyzed with terror. And then her partner came around the corner. He had a bat in his hand as he proceeded to beat the corpse over on and over. On the ground it twitched and moaned. The thing was literally pulverized and it was still moving. Backing up she snapped back to reality grabbing the bag and her partner by the arm.

"We need to FUCKING GO!"

Eyes snapping open she didn't want to remember anymore. That wasn't a particularly good memory but it didn't matter because he was there. He was alive. She wasn't alone. Lowering herself out of the window she checked the door before wandering over to Daryl. Peeling the covers back slightly she checked his wound. The bleeding had stopped as she replaced the bloody gauze with a clean one. Watching his chest rise and fall she saw that his breathing had become considerably easier. She should be able to pull the tube out tomorrow. Covering him back up she watched the expression on his face change from peaceful to troubled. She didn't envy this man or the position he was in. Quietly she tip toed back across the room. On the floor she spread out an old sleeping bag as she laid down not yet closing her eyes. She knew what she would see when they closed.

Carl was pretending to be asleep. He saw the strange woman walk over and check Daryl. He watched the way she uncovered him, checked the wound, and then covered him back up. Carl wasn't sure why he felt the need to watch her but he did. In both his life before and after he had never seen a woman so balls out. She knew what to do and when to do it. In that way she mesmerized him. He also couldn't help but to find her strange. She was doing all this but honestly she didn't seem to care one way or another. All this trouble and yet she was so non-plussed by it all he wondered why she did it in the first place. And then there was Daryl. Carl didn't know why but he felt some strange obligation to make sure he protected the man. Yes he was their best chance at getting back to the group but there was something more. He cared about them…he cared about them more than he had to. And he protected them, he cleaned their cuts, he saw to it that they were fed and clothed, and warm at night even if that meant he wasn't.

Rolling over Carl watched as Daryl slept on the bed. His face contorting with emotion periodically before relaxing again. There was also the guilt he felt. It was his fault that Daryl got shot. Shane would have never found him if he didn't run away from Daryl in the first place. So childish and stupid, why couldn't he have listened just this once? And Shane would have never killed those people if Carl had chosen correctly and not gone hunting after the lunatic. But most of all he would have never shot Daryl if Carl, stupid as can be, didn't lead the crazy bastard right back to where he knew….HE KNEW Daryl would be. So this was all Carl's fault. And he knew it.

Pushing himself up he tiptoed over to the bed. He hadn't know Daryl for very long and yet in his wildest dreams he could have never imagined the man looking like he did right now. Pale, sickly, weak these were words never used to describe Daryl Dixon. And yet here he was.

Daryl's keen perception must have existed in sleep as well. Carl hadn't been there very long and yet he could feel someone staring at him. Flickering his eyes open he saw Carl sitting on the edge of the bed. The boy had aged ten years since he had last taken a good look at him. His hair was greasy and matted to his forehead, his eyes had dark circles around them; guilt was written all over his face. Licking his lips Daryl's voice came out quiet and raspy. "What's a matter?"

He watched the boy look down at his hands before looking around the cabin and then back down at his hands. His lower lip trembled as he refused to look Daryl in the eye. "I'm sorry, Daryl. It's my fault you got shot." With that the flood gates opened and all the emotion Carl had been holding back all day came pouring out. The fear, the anger, the guilt, the sadness, the sheer terror; it spilled out onto his cheeks and down his face.

Daryl's expression softened. Taking the boy's had in his own he regarded Carl seriously. "Because of you, I'm alive. You found help."

Carl shook his head, bound and determined to believe otherwise. "No…No this would have never happened if I had just picked you." The emotion behind those words was not lost on Daryl as he felt his own eyes mist over. Carl would never know how much he had wanted to be the one who got picked. For obvious reasons of course but also because it meant he was doing a good job, it meant that he was someone they trusted and cared about. It meant that he wasn't his father.

Daryl was weak and he couldn't do much but he knew that Carl needed him right now. He needed him to get better, he needed him to find his father, he needed him to protect them but most of all he needed Daryl to make him feel like everything would be ok. Scooting over in the bed, Daryl made room on his left side for Carl. The boy continued to sob into his hands as Daryl pulled him down onto the bed next to him. Wrapping his arm around Carl's shoulders he felt him tentatively relax a bit. Ruffling the boy's hair he spoke again his voice barely above a whisper.

"I'm sorry for you know…uh…hitting you like that." It made him sick to even say the words and if Carl jumped up and ran across the room he wouldn't blame him. He didn't move though as he looked up at the older man seriously.

"It's ok. I deserved it." If Daryl was in any condition he would give the boy a good talking to about that but he was weak and even this was a monumental effort. Shaking his head his voice was low and serious.

"Nobody deserves that, Carl. I just…." Before he finished Sophia appeared. Her eyes were filled with tears as she looked at Daryl trembling.

"Are you ok?" The first man who made her feel safe in her entire life and she thought she was going to watch him die. Taking her hand with the arm he already had around Carl, he looked at her seriously.

"I'm fine. Not planning on going anywhere." She looked unsure as he pulled her over carefully inspecting the bruise on her wrist. "I'm sorry for that." He felt so ashamed of what he did to them. Looking Sophia in the eyes he blinked a couple times trying not to cry himself. "I …I got scared. I didn't want anything to happen to you guys." Before being shot he would have never said something like that. Now it didn't matter as much.

Sophia crawled in the bed next to Carl as they both cuddled closer into Daryl. He was hurting but he didn't mind. "It's going to be ok, guys. We're going to get out of this and find your parents."

Sophia's voice was small and quiet but he had no doubt about what he heard, "All that matters is we have you." It made him feel warm and special and like he had done a good job. They weren't with him because they had no choice; they were with him because they wanted to be.

Across the room the woman rolled over on her side as she watched the emotional display in front of her. It made a small part of her feel just the slightest bit hopeful that good still existed in this fucked up world. The majority of her, however, felt sad because she knew inevitably their entire world would soon be crushed by reality. And just like her everyone they loved would also be gone.

I'm back ! Reviews are always appreciated