A/N: Sorry it took so long to update! Thanks for the reviews, you guys are great. Enjoy the next chapter!
Claire was reluctant about the plan to invade the camp, but she knew it had to be done. She just couldn't help worrying. They would be so greatly outnumbered and it wasn't safe.
As she and the others prepared to leave the prison, she pulled Rick aside and said, "Please be safe. You're seriously one the greatest people I've met since the end of the world and I want you to come back."
Rick smiled softly at her, his eyes lighting up just slightly at her words. He pulled her into a quick, but tight hug and released her as he replied.
"You're a good girl, Claire. I'm glad you're part of the group. I'll do my best to make it back in one piece."
Claire nodded and felt her heart drop a little at that first bit. He said it like she was an adopted daughter or something. She knew it shouldn't bother her—honestly it should be flattering—but it still made her sad.
"Good, 'cause I'd miss you if you didn't make it back," she told him, meeting his gaze. Saying goodbye to anyone in this new world was always harder than it should be. Even if it was just for a night, knowing there was a strong chance they may never come back made it tough.
"If I don't…you stick with these guys, okay? Keep each other safe."
"Of course." She smiled half-heartedly and somehow plucked up the courage to lean in and kiss his cheek. "I'll see you later."
"See you," he said softly, before turning to join the others who were going out to the camp.
Claire watched them go, crossing her arms and sighing heavily. If I don't…you stick with these guys. Those words would be in her head all night. The way she felt about Rick was new and still blossoming and she knew she didn't have a shot, but she would always wonder if he didn't return. She would always wonder what might have happened if she'd had the time to know him.
She shook herself out of her haze and went to join the others as they grabbed their things and got ready to leave. They weren't wasting any time evacuating and they would be heading out right behind Rick's group. She had to keep her head straight and she had to help look out for these people that had so willingly taken her in.
"You alright, sis?" Sean asked, placing his hand comfortingly on her shoulder.
"Fine." She knew that he wouldn't buy it. He knew that she was scared and sad. "Let's just get out of here before anyone shows up."
Rick would be a liar if he said he wasn't scared about the raid they were about to do. He knew there was a strong chance they wouldn't all make it back. His only real hope was that one of them would so that they could tell the group what took place. He knew the others would want him to survive—that they would tell him he had kids to raise—but he didn't agree with that. If any of them had to go, he wanted it to be him. Glenn, Maggie, and Daryl were all too good and strong and he loved them too much to let them die.
This had to be done though. No matter how dangerous it was, they had to fight for a chance to survive. They had to fight for the others. The group was even bigger now—more lives to look after—and Rick wasn't going to let anything happen to any of them.
That's what he told himself as he and the other three split up, creeping through the darkness of the forest and closing in around the camp. The only light was from the moon, but it was enough to scope out the guards that were pacing around the camp. There were four of them—a perfect number—and they were at individual posts.
Rick watched as Maggie and Glenn darted to the sides of the field while Daryl circled around to the trees across from him. They eventually disappeared into the darkness and as he waited the designated amount of time they had decided on, he examined the leader's tent. It was the only one still lit up and that bothered Rick. It meant he was awake. It would be harder to take him out that way. If they weren't careful, he could call for help before they had the chance to silence him and they could be swiftly outnumbered.
Once the amount of time he had to wait was up, Rick quickly and quietly moved forward and aimed for his target. He thanked God for silencers as he took a deep breath, steadied his gun, and took down his guard. As soon as he was down, Rick darted forward and checked the other three posts to see that his friends had succeeded as well.
The first phase had gone completely according to plan, but he was still leery about the second part. If they were caught—
The sudden, alarming sound of gunfire sounded through the air, completely unmistakable to Rick's ears. What came with it was much worse—it was a painfully familiar, strangled cry from across the field.
"Daryl…," he muttered in panic, not hesitating to rush out from his hiding place. He tore across the grass, weaving through tents, his heart racing wildly.
Not Daryl. Not Daryl. The mantra ran through his mind over and over and he felt like he couldn't run fast enough. As he finally made it to his destination, leaping over the lifeless body of the guard his friend had killed, his heart dropped. There was a second body lying still, just outside the edge of the trees, and Xavier was standing over it with a pistol in his hand. No one seemed to be bothering with leaving their tents and Rick wondered if that was on Xavier's orders.
"Get away from him!" Rick demanded, aiming his gun directly at the leader's head. "Now."
Xavier glanced over at him and Rick was shocked to see a smirk on his face. What kind of sick son of a bitch was he?
"I went out to check the perimeters…came back to find your friend here taking out my guard," he stated. "Got any other friends lurking around here?"
"Daryl?" Rick completely ignored Xavier and moved forward, his weapon still aimed and ready to shoot as he did so. "Daryl, man, are you alive?"
"Barely." The reply was hoarse and weak, but it was still a reply. "Fucker caught my shoulder."
Rick wanted to shoot Xavier right there, but he still had his gun out. He could still kill Daryl and that was something Rick was not willing to risk.
"Xavier…we're just tryin' to defend our home," Rick said trying to get the guy to talk. If he could distract him just long enough for Maggie or Glenn to take him out, everything would be okay. "Surely you understand that. We don't want to kill anyone."
"But you did. You killed my men. You shot first."
"Because you threatened my home and my family," Rick snarled.
"Do we really have to discuss this again? I need that prison and in this world you have to fight to survive. Surely you understand that."
Rick's hand tightened on his gun. Where the hell were the other two? Surely they'd heard the shot and were coming to investigate. It didn't take that damn long to cross the field…
"Daryl, you still good?" Rick checked, fearing that he wouldn't get a response this time.
"Wouldn't say good…"
"Don't you die on me. We're gettin' out here." His tone was fierce—determined. To hell if he was going to let Daryl die.
"Well it seems like you're not really in the position to be making those promises," Xavier taunted.
"And you are? You may have a gun on Daryl, but I've got three on you."
That was all it took. The leader made a fatal mistake, turning his head to look for the other two guns, and Rick took his shot. He put a bullet into his brain without hesitation, the man falling to the ground before he could ever take another shot at Daryl.
Rick didn't take any time to celebrate his success. He just rushed forward, falling to his knees next to Daryl. "Fuck…just hold on man, we'll get you to the car and we'll patch you up…you'll be alright."
Daryl smirked at him, his eyes hazy. "If I survive this, I'm officially more of a badass than you."
Rick laughed at that and shook his head. "The hell are you talkin' about? You already are. Bullet wound counts don't matter."
"Yea…guess I am." The hunter chuckled weakly at that.
Rick glanced around, searching for Glenn and Maggie. When he didn't find them fear began to creep up inside of him. Were there others from the camp that had been out? Were they caught?
"Rick!" It was Maggie. Her voice came from behind him and he quickly stood, spinning around to face her as she ran towards him.
"I don't know," she replied, her voice thick with fear. "Is Daryl okay?"
"No. Xavier shot him and he's hurt pretty bad. We gotta get him outta here."
"Shit…" She glanced passed Rick to see Xavier and Daryl in the grass. "Let's get him to the car. Maybe Glenn will meet us there."
Rick hated to leave the camp without Glenn, but he could come back and look for him as soon as he had Daryl taken care of. He and Maggie hurried over to the injured man and helped him up.
It was a much longer trek back to the SUV than Rick would have liked. Even though Daryl had wrapped his wound with Rick's over-shirt, he was still losing a lot of blood. He was getting incredibly pale and he moved slowly, his breath labored.
As soon as he was in the vehicle, Rick dug into the medical supplies.
"Maggie, clean the wound the best you can and try to stop the blood flow. I need you to tend to him while I go look for Glenn," Rick demanded.
"By yourself?" she protested.
"We don't have much of a choice. If they have him or if he's hurt, he needs me and Daryl needs you." With that he closed the vehicle door and hurried off into the trees. There was no time for arguing.
Rick didn't like being out in the dark on his own any more than Maggie did, but it had to happen. Daryl needed Maggie and Rick put the hunter's life before his. He'd risk going out alone if it meant his friend had a better chance at surviving.
He stuck to the general path they took to get near the camp, hoping Glenn would have found his way to it. He was smart, Rick knew that, and he was depending on it.
It didn't take nearly as long as he would have thought for him to realize that was the right choice. About halfway down the path, he finally found his friend as he came running towards him.
"Glenn!" Rick exclaimed as the familiar man finally came into view. He was incredily winded when he came to a stop in front of Rick, bending over and placing his hands on his knees as he panted.
"Shit, Rick, I'm sorry," he apologized. "One of the camp members came out of their tent and found me. They had a gun. I had to bail. I circled back around, but you guys were already gone."
"Well we gotta get back to the car," Rick insisted. "Daryl got shot, Maggie is trying to patch him up right now."
"Fuck." Glenn frowned and followed Rick as he hurried back in the opposite direction. "You think he'll be okay?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "He lost a lot of blood and there is always the chance for infection. I haven't looked at the wound, so I don't know for sure."
They made it back to the SUV in record time, Rick hurrying into the driver's seat. Once Glenn was in the seat next to him, he started driving and asked Maggie, "How is he?"
"I dunno," she sighed fretfully. "There's nothin' I can really do, except keep pressure on it. I don't know if it the bullet hit anything important and I don't want to make it worse. The bleeding slowed at least…"
"Is he out?"
"Yea…passed out not too long ago."
Rick nodded and sped up. He wasn't wasting any time. The sooner they got Daryl back to Hershel the better. He wasn't going to lose someone tonight—there was no damn way. They'd done what they needed to do with surprising success and he was not about to end that triumph with Daryl's death.
ON the way back, they took the route that went by the prison just to check things out. As they drove past, Rick slowed slightly and peered out his window, frowning as he spotted the vehicles parked outside.
"Shit…he did send people," Rick observed, his heart sinking. He sped up again, his hands tightening on the wheel until his knuckles were white. "Dammit…we got him, but they still got the prison."
"They've gotta go back for the others," Glenn reminded him. "Maybe when their defenses are weakened we can take it back. Ambush 'em when they try to come back."
Rick shook his head. "No…no, I'm not riskin' anyone else. We've got a kid, a baby, two amputees, and our best shot tryin' to bleed out in my back seat. We don't have the man power, Glenn."
"So you're just gonna give the place up? Just like that? Daryl just got shot for nothing?"
"Not for nothin'. You don't know how many lives we might have saved taking out a guy like him. Besides, what else can we do? I'm sorry, but they're camp is three times the size of ours."
"But we killed their leader and four of their guards and they didn't even come out of their tents," Glenn pushed. "They don't seem like fighters to me. We could try to reason with them or—"
"We'll talk about it later. We're back. We gotta get Daryl to Hershel." Rick pulled into the parking lot of the warehouse, driving right up to the door. There was no time to waste and he silently prayed it wasn't already too late.