One foot in front of the other. One step at a time.

It was agony.

He'd been tested before, his body bruised and battered, but he'd never felt so utterly broken. Merle beating him and leaving him for dead- leaving him for walker bait- had been the ultimate betrayal. And over what? Over him having the chance to better himself, to build something worth living for in this chaotic world?

Fuck him.

Although his progress was painfully slow, it was steady. The woods were quiet, and here there wasn't a lot of underbrush to fight through. Walkers weren't known to be the stealthiest of creatures, and he figured he'd hear any before he saw them. It wasn't the dead that took him down this time, though.

Daryl's eye was partially swollen shut from the damage done to his cheek, so he didn't see the branch in time to duck. It collided with his forehead. Fireworks sparked to life in his skull, and he swayed on his feet. His legs gave out and he collapsed, knees hitting the dirt, clutching his head in his one good hand. He felt like crying. It wasn't fair. This was just too much- wouldn't it be easier to just lie back down, fall asleep? Just gonna take a short nap…


His head jerked up.

"Daryl, you need to get up."

But he was alone in the woods.

A cool breeze blew over him, foliage overhead gently rustling as it passed. Daryl knelt for a moment longer before pushing himself back to a standing position. He held his crossbow close. This wasn't the time for a pity party- but it would be so easy to just rest, just stop and rest just for a moment- not while he was so vulnerable. He staggered forward again.

Daryl didn't even have the luxury of being able to use a walking stick. Not if he wanted to keep his crossbow ready. So he made a game of things to help pass the time and keep his mind occupied. He'd look ahead about 40 yards and identify an obstacle; a rock, a pinecone, the knot of a tree- and when he reached that particular landmark, he'd allow himself to rest on his feet for a minute. It gave him something to look forward to. He continued this way for some time before the voice stopped him again.

"Daryl. Listen."

So he cocked his head, and listened. He heard the scuffling, the uncertain progress through a bed of leaves, and readied his crossbow. Taking deep breaths to steady himself, he braced himself against a tree to support his weakened body- he was ready when the walker appeared. A quick depression of the trigger, and his bolt flew true. It hit the corpse right between the eyes, and dropped it down to the ground. Loading his second bolt, he waited. Five minutes. Ten.

It was quiet again.

Putting one foot to the walker's throat, he yanked the bolt out and wiped it quickly in the dirt. This wasn't that bad, then. He could do it. Especially with the warning he'd received from that bodiless voice. Though that came with its own set of worries, too. Worries that his head had been hit hard enough to knock something vital loose, because if he was honest with himself, he knew exactly who that voice belonged to. And he knew it was crazy, because the person that voice belonged to was long dead.

It was Sophia, guiding him safely home.

One foot in front of the other. One step at a time.