A/N Annnnd, we're back! Took a break from this story to start Hungry Like the Wolf, but I figured I needed to give you guys an update on this one too. Writing has been a little slow this week. School's been crazy, but this coming week is SPRING BREAK baby! I plan on writing and updating as much as I can!

Oh, and FYI, this is a bit of an AU spin on season 3. (well, duh) But, I kind of based this right after the first episode of that season. In this story, they haven't come across the inmates yet.

For all you who have reviewed, and to the anons who I can't message my thanks to, THANK YOU! Your support keeps me thinking about the stories and where I can take them next. Enjoy this next installment!

Chapter Four - In which Daryl finds himself in a bit of a pickle.

The first thing Daryl was aware of was the pain. His head felt like it was splitting in two, his shoulder was throbbing, and his entire body felt as if it had been thoroughly run over by a train. He didn't try to move until his vision began to align itself correctly. He blinked sluggishly, trying to make sense of where he was. He saw golden sunlight filtering through the ceiling.

I fell underground. He recalled, his stomach twisting uncomfortably. It must have been a 10 foot fall from the surface, at least. He turned his head to the side, trying to gain his bearings a bit better. There was dirt and chunks of earth to his right. When he looked the other way, a painful twinge ran through his shoulder. He winced and gave a couple deep breathes to get through the lingering throb. Ok, don't move your left shoulder, idiot. He grimaced.

As his consciousness gradually became solid, he pushed his right arm behind him and struggled to raise himself into a sitting position. He scooted back and rested against the warm surface behind him. His eyebrows furrowed in confusion as he reached back and felt course hair. He looked behind him and could barely make out the shape of the bear.

Daryl froze, breath hitching. When he realized the bear wasn't moving, he sighed in relief. He just hoped the animal was dead. He did his best to move away from the bear, and made his way to the earthen wall. He glanced around himself again, this time catching sight of wooden beams on the ground and lining part of the wall.

Bet this used to be the minin' tunnel. Daryl thought. It didn't go anywhere any more. It looked like the cave in had blocked the tunnel off from him. Great. Now it looks like the only way out's up. Daryl looked back up the hole. It looked way too steep to scale, but maybe there were footholds he could use to climb out.

Daryl braced himself, determined to make it to his feet. He put most of his weight on his right side to avoid his left arm. He couldn't tell if the limb was broken or just dislocated. As he was rising, a jolt of electric pain went through his left ankle. He gasped and cursed, gingerly lifting his foot from the ground and wobbling unsteadily on his right foot. Damn it! Left shoulder, left foot, figures! Daryl grimaced in pain as he tried to make it over to the opposite, makeshift wall. When he succeeded, he glanced upwards again, this time with a better view of the sky. He had no idea what time it was, but the sun had definitely moved since the last he saw it.

When he noticed the emptiness at his back, he remembered his crossbow and began scanning the ground. His heart sank when his beloved weapon was nowhere in sight. Neither was his backpack. He fell back against the rock and earth barrier. He hoped his things hadn't been buried by the cave in.

Daryl looked at the still form of the bear. Not breathin'. The thing's dead. Glancing between the ceiling and the bear, Daryl recalled the initial, somewhat-cushioned landing he had. Must've landed on the damn bear before hittin' the ground. He raised an eyebrow at the small bit of fortune in his situation.

Daryl exhaled heavily, laying his head against the rock behind him. The simple endeavor of standing and walking across the small space he was confined in winded him, and the pounding headache was returning with a vengeance. He carefully lowered himself to the tunnel floor, his energy reserves exhausted. The adrenaline from the earlier attack had completely seeped from his body, leaving him achy and in pain. His eyelids seemed to have gained twenty pounds as he blinked slowly and shivered slightly. Hugging his good arm to his chest, he tugged his jacket closer to his body. I'll just rest for a minute, then get myself outta this hole and back…to….the…. Daryl's eyes slipped closed and his head nodded to his chest as his consciousness left him.

Rick climbed the watch tower, relieving T-Dog from his shift of guard duty.

"Thanks, man," T-Dog said, clapping Rick's shoulder. "All's been pretty quiet." He stepped past the group leader to leave.

Rick nodded to the other man. "Hey, T," he called.

T-Dog turned back. "Yeah, man?"

"Daryl didn't come in, did he?" Rick asked, glancing down at the main gates, then back to T-Dog.

T-Dog frowned. "Naw, he didn't." He glanced up at the sky. "Shit, sun's goin' down, too." He worriedly gazed at Rick. "He said he'd be back today though, right?"

Rick nodded, concern beginning to color his expression. "Yes, he did," he drawled.

T-Dog looked out at the woods again. "He's got a little time," he reasoned.

Rick "hmm"ed at the thought, not really taking the comfort of the statement.

T-Dog nodded once more before turning and heading back to the prison.

"Come on Daryl," Rick muttered, watching the tree line where his friend had left merely twelve hours before. He knew the hunter was more than capable of taking care of himself in the wilderness, but Daryl was usually back by the given dead line.

As the sun sank lower in the sky, Rick tried to quell the anxiousness that stirred in his gut. If Daryl wasn't back soon, the hunter would be on his own for the night. Rick wouldn't dare risk a search party in the woods after dark, especially since the expert on tracking was the one missing. Rick settled down, watching the perimeter. He'd make rounds later, but he wanted to watch the forest line until the sun completely set.

When the light was almost gone, he heard soft steps behind him.

"Has he come back yet?" Carol's quiet voice asked, worry lacing her question.

Rick turned to her and shook his head. "No," he said.

Distress crossed Carol's face. "He can't be out there all alone!" she exclaimed.

"He'll be fine!" Rick was quick to cut in before Carol further panicked herself. "Daryl can take care of himself out there."

"But," she began again.

Rick interrupted her again. "Maybe he's got something heavy to carry back here and it's slowed him down for the night. He'll probably be back by morning." Hopefully. His mind didn't buy his own fabricated excuse, and by the look in her eyes, Carol didn't either.

He sighed. "Look, I'll keep an eye out for him. If he's not back by morning, we can start to worry. But now is too soon."

Carol gave him a doubtful gaze, but eventually nodded. "Alright then," she said. "I'll be waiting inside."

Rick watched her leave and sighed. Daryl, you'd better have a good excuse for being late. He used his irritation at the hunter to cover the worry that was slowly creeping into his chest.

A/N Sorry, Daryl! Didn't mean to be so cruel! Well, ok, maybe I did just a little bit. :)

Remember to drop your thoughts! I love hearing from you guys! :D Back soon, dearies!