Disclaimer: I do not own the Walking Dead. But I would sure to love to write for them.

Summary: After the group is forced to head west to escape the Governor and his men, Daryl is separated from the rest and stranded in the desert. Now, he must fight to survive and make his way back to his family, and maybe get some help from a few friends along the way. Daryl-centric with everybody else having a role to play.

Author's Note: This is my first Walking Dead fanfiction. If this one does good, maybe I'll see about writing some others! This story is already complete, so all you need to do is kick your feet up and wait for the updates to come rolling on in. Once a day updates! This story is Daryl-centric, but it will focus heavily on his relationship with the rest of the group. There will be some mentions of Caryl, though they may be light enough for those of you who are not fans to gloss over it. There will also be plenty of Rick/Daryl bromance, too. Either way, I hope you...

Enjoy!


One Foot in Front of the Other

Chapter One

For a moment, he almost wanted to laugh. Staring down the barrel of a silver-plated revolver gave him almost fond flashbacks to some of his less than finer moments with Rick. But he realized that laughing right now would probably not go over well with the man holding the gun. The humor, Daryl supposed, would probably be lost on him.

The difference this time, of course, was that the gun currently pointed at him had already been fired. Beside him, Tyreese laid on the ground, clutching at his chest for all the good it was doing, as he panted, open-mouthed. His dark brown eyes were staring up at Daryl as if he expected him to be able to do something, to somehow save him, call in the cavalry. Daryl didn't have the heart to tell him that it wouldn't happen. Blood splattered up around his lips as Tyreese struggled for breath, and his lips turned crimson.

"Just so you know I'm serious," Martinez said with a smirk on his face. His eyes were wide and tad on the crazy side, looking a bit more animalistic than human at the moment, the signs of a man who hadn't seen civilization for far too long. Daryl knew that was not exactly a good sign. "Boy, you are fucked now, aren't you? I shot him. What's to stop me from shooting you too since you seem so goddamn intent on keeping that mouth of yours shut?"

Daryl met his stare without blinking. "Nothing," he answered, almost bored. He felt tired all of a sudden. Sleepy. How weird. It must have been the Arizona sun. Or were they still in Texas? Hell, he didn't even know anymore.

"Got that right." The smirk turned into a wide, manic grin. "But I don't think I'm gonna. Know what I'm gonna do instead?"

He really didn't want to know, but he knew he was about to find out. "What?"

The gun came down to rest against Daryl's cheek, only a little hotter than the air around them. He had a sudden urge to reach up and twist that damn thing out of his hand before he even knew what hit him, but Daryl was still fully aware of Shumpert standing several paces behind him. He couldn't see him, but he was pretty damn sure – at least from the shadow that he was casting across the ground – that he still had his fucking crossbow pointed at the back of his head. Douchebag. And Christ, it was so hot. It was hotter than it was yesterday, and that was saying something. Daryl closed his eyes.

"Think I'm just gonna leave you here," Martinez whispered as he ran the tip of the barrel over Daryl's cheekbone and prodded at his closed eyelids. "How long you think you're gonna last? A day or two?" When Daryl didn't reply, he nudged at his eye harder. Daryl gritted his teeth but refused to react. "What do ya say, amigo? How long?"

Daryl was too proud to even think of responding. He had half a mind to spit in his face. So, he did. He got pistol whipped across the face for his effort, sending him from his knees that he had been forced on to all fours. His right hand landed in the pool of blood forming around Tyreese's body. Daryl tasted iron on his lips. It was still worth it. And it wasn't nearly as much blood as was in Tyreese's mouth at the moment. Good God, the guy was going to drown in his blood long before he bled out.

"Leave him some water," Tyreese managed to croak out. "Please."

Daryl resisted the urge to flinch at the singular him.

"Now, why would I wanna do anything like that? Spoils all the fun."

It was not a relief to know that Martinez was not going to kill him outright. The desert was going to do that for him. No water equaled death and not a very pleasant one. Not fast enough, not nearly. Throw him in the middle of a goddamn wilderness, the fucking Amazon rainforest if you gotta, but this? This was so far out of Daryl's comfort zone that he realized just being fucking zen about the whole entire thing wasn't going to suddenly make it less of a grave. Daryl fought down the sudden swell of despair that started to gather in his chest and gave a shake of his head.

"It ain't enough to walk out of here, and ya know it. What's the fuckin' difference?" he growled. It was the closest he would ever get to begging, but that's what he was pretty much doing.

Martinez grinned again, baring yellowed teeth. His breath was almost worse than any goddamn walker he'd ever come across, and if he hadn't already felt sick at his current situation, that sure as hell did the trick. "The difference is that torture's fun, sunshine," he hissed, mocking the redneck with great pleasure. "You and the pathetic traitor, here. Lost in the desert. That's just all kinds of fun waiting to happen. Too bad we can't stick around and watch what happens."

"Bastard," Daryl spat out, pointlessly.

Martinez laughed in response as the gun finally retreated back into the waistband of his dirty jeans.

"You're gonna fuckin' regret this," Daryl swore. He licked his lips and his stomach tightened with worry that he refused to show at how damn dry they already were, the dehydration cracks already starting to form. "I will make sure you fuckin' do. You can count on it."

Something like a real smile made its way onto Martinez's face, making him look oddly sympathetic. "Hombre, you ain't gonna be doin' much of anything before the vultures will start picking out your eyes and walkers start eating your remains," he said in an absurdly gentle voice. "You'll figure that out pretty quick out here. Everything looks the same, no matter which way you turn. You're in my territory now, amigo. Might live longer if you stay put, but if you don't move, you won't find your way back to your group. Kinda damned if you do, damned if you don't, huh?"

Daryl didn't say anything to that. There wasn't any need.

He watched as Shumpert came around, keeping his own damn crossbow trained on him, and Martinez slung his gear into the back of the truck. Daryl lived to survive; he was always fucking prepared. If he could keep the vehicle, he could get Tyreese out, maybe get him back to Hershel. Even if the truck didn't run, he'd been left to nurse his own damn wounds enough to be able to at least muster some sort of shitty first aid, long as he had his damn gear.

But Martinez was taking it all. Food. Water. The tarp they had grabbed, figuring they could use it as a tent in a worst-case scenario. Even the damn precious jars of baby food that had been for Judith. It was all leaving.

Tyreese made a gurgling sound, and Daryl looked down to see blood trickling from the corner of the larger man's mouth. He was dying already.

Daryl tried not to think how lucky Tyreese was.

"So, I'd say see you around, but… I won't. Say hello to your brother for me." Martinez climbed in behind the wheel of the truck while Shumpert took the driver seat of the beat-up jeep they had originally pulled up in. He gave Daryl a cheery wave. "If I were you, I'd find me some shelter. Gonna be a scorcher today, I guarantee it." He beamed at him. "You two take care now. Thanks for the wheels."

"Fuck you!" Daryl spat out harshly, but the doors were already shut with the wheels scratching in the sandy gravel. The two-car caravan turned and headed out the way Daryl and Tyreese came, barely daybreak then, following a nonexistent road that had only been created out of a necessity to avoid a hoard of walkers.

He watched Martinez and Shumpert drive away, the vehicles bouncing over the terrain. Daryl estimated that it was forty miles that direction to the nearest town. Twenty before they would hit pavement. Rick and the rest of the group were even further than both of those combined. Behind him was nothing but craggy mountains, no telling on how far they actually were. Daryl didn't know this terrain. He had no damn clue where anything else other than what they had passed coming out was. He could have picked any other direction and walked with the hope of finding something closer, or he could die of thirst before he even saw a hillside. Either way, the trip would kill him long before he had a chance to find out.

"Go," Tyreese said in his gurgling voice. "Get going. Gotta – find some sh-shade."

Daryl wiped his bloody palm on his pants leg before he looked down at him again. "You're comin' with me."

Tyreese reached up to grip the front of his leather vest tightly in his fist. "No." A bubble of blood formed between his lips before it popped, spraying find droplets of red over his lips. "I'm not."

"Yeah, you are," Daryl snapped. He ignored the irony of how they'd been just about to rip each other's heads off right before they got fucking rammed off the road and now he was fighting to save the guy's life. "C'mon. It ain't that fuckin' far."

"Remember – Remember that wash we went past? Back 'bout ten miles?" Another bubble and this time Tyreese coughed. The flow of blood strengthened, dribbling all over his chin. His dark eyes fixed an unbearable energy on Daryl's face, and his hold on his vest tightened. Daryl gave a stiff nod. "Dried up now… but… wasn't always… couldn't have been…" He made a cawing sound that took Daryl a moment to realize was a laugh. "Jesus, my chest hurts."

"Shut the hell up, man," Daryl urged helplessly. "Good Lord."

"No. You go back there. Tonight, when it's – cooler. Choose a direction and follow it… People always setting up stupid ass communities along those rivers, no matter how tiny they are. You'll find houses. Maybe a well. You'll have – water."

He was only half listening. His eyes were scanning the area for other options, some way to make a makeshift stretcher or some other shit like that. He chewed on his ever gnawed on thumbnail, trying to come up with something. No fucking trees. Useless desert vegetation, cactus, a little mesquite. Not strong enough. Not nearly.

The vice-like grip on Daryl's vest was surprisingly strong. "You gotta get out of the sun," he said, his voice clear of the gurgling for that moment. "It'll – be hot as hell again today. Find someplace. Shade. Watch for walkers."

Daryl clenched his jaw tightly. "I ain't leavin' you to turn into one of those things," he whispered harshly. His throat ached, and it was not just from thirst.

"Ain't nothing you can do about it now. They took all our weapons." Tyreese's face twisted with agony, and he turned his head away. "Go, for fuck's sake! Remember the wash."

Daryl swallowed, his throat tight against the movement. "I'll come back for ya. I will. I won't leave ya like one of 'em."

"Good," Tyreese whispered in his bubbling voice. He finally released Daryl's vest so that he could claw at the neck of his shirt. He pulled out a medallion and broke the gold chain around his neck with a fast yank. "Give this to Sasha."

Daryl took the pendant, a St Christopher's medallion. He tucked it carefully in his pocket, shoving it far down so that it wouldn't slip free if he had to climb. "I will," he promised. "Don't ya worry."

Tyreese didn't say anything else. He was alive when Daryl finally stood, but his breathing was labored now, deep and faster and hesitating every third breath or so. It was loud and strenuous, the sound of dying. There wasn't anything anyone could do at this point. If they magically ended up in an operating ER right this second, Tyreese would still die. There was too much damage.

Daryl gave the area one last desperate look, hoping to find something that would help him put Tyreese out of his misery before he turned, but found nothing. He started off down the already fading path that the vehicles left behind. The thread of dust from the retreating caravan was long gone. It was quiet; even the birds were silent. Only the hiss of the ever-present wind, pushing along dust, whispering through the mesquite dared to utter a sound.

Behind him, the gasping breaths stopped. Daryl didn't turn to look back.

x X x

The wind was taking away the dirt tracks of the truck and jeep every second. Daryl knew that they had veered off course and headed south, southwest. He just had to make it back to the pavement. Or was it the wash? One of those. The sun behind him informed him that it wasn't even noon yet. It was still morning, still vaguely early, but the sun was beating down on him like fists already. There was no telling how hot it was. At least a hundred. Maybe higher.

"You'd better start thinking about shade," Tyreese said suddenly. "Like I said."

The voice was so clear that Daryl actually spun around, expecting to see him standing there with a great red blotch across his chest, blood on his lips, as he dispensed calm, sage-like advice as if he weren't at the very end of dying. Or maybe he'd expected to see walker-Tyreese, standing there with his arms outstretched, ready to bite into his shoulder. Though walkers didn't talk, but that fact was kind of lost on Daryl at the moment.

But he wasn't there in any form. No Tyreese. No walker. No Martinez and Shumpert with their truck and their things. Hell, they pretty much had Daryl's life in their grimy hands. No one. Just the wind, and the dust. Not even a goddamned jackrabbit was in sight.

Daryl wiped the sweat from his forehead and paused as a sudden thought hit him. How long until that stops? He knew that once you stopped sweating, you weren't really doing so well. So far, so good, but he was already so thirsty that he'd drink goddamn radiator water if he could get his hands on it. How far was it until he'd drink worse? He grew up on worse, but there had to be a point that even he would usually stop at, right? Walker soup. Yeah, that was pretty bad. Ten miles? Twenty? A few more hours? Tomorrow?

Shade. That was important. Standing out here in the fucking blazing sun wouldn't do anyone any goddamn favors, least of all him. He shaded his eyes as he scanned the horizon, turning to look south again. There was not a whole lot ahead. No trees, Not even a few puny mesquites back the mile or two he had already come. It was a valley; mountains were around, but definitely more than a day's walk away.

Well, he'd felt thirsty before. Majorly thirsty. He had gotten lost in the woods for nine-fucking-days before, hadn't seen a single hide nor hair of a stream or river for any of that. It hadn't rained a drop either. He'd been forced to lick dew off of the leaves and absorb whatever moisture he could from the sparse berries he'd been able to find. Nine-fucking-days. It sucked, sure, but it was doable. This would be, too. Had to be.

Except the Georgia Mountains weren't exactly a Midwestern desert. It had been dry, yes, but it hadn't even been summer then either. Closer to winter, actually. Mid-October or so. Some kids had been picking out their Halloween costume, and he'd gotten himself fucking lost. He had sweated like a son of a bitch then, too, but it hadn't really gotten to him.

This was like hiking over a well-heated cast-iron skillet. And this wasn't even the bad part of the day. This was the good part.

He licked his lips and glanced at his burnt forearms. Well, fuck. Good old Martinez took the long-sleeved shirt he'd had in the back, too, didn't he? So, if he got out of this alive, he was gonna end up kicking the bucket thanks to skin cancer down the line. Wonderful. Small potatoes, really.

He drew in a deep breath and tried not to hear Tyreese's mournful dead voice. "Gonna get a lot worse than this, Daryl. You ready for that? Really?"

Come to think of it, Tyreese was starting to sound a lot like Rick. And Rick had never really done wrong by him. He might still be shit at tracking, but the man knew a thing or two about surviving. He'd woken from a goddamn coma and managed to survive this shit, after all. His words had some weight.

Shelter. That was what he needed. And tonight, when it cooled off, if he hadn't already been found by the search party that Rick would send out for him, he'd hit the road again.

x X x

"When I get back," Daryl whispered, blinking the sweat out of his eyes, "I'm gonna start smokin' again." He drew in a quick breath and ignored the ache of his tired hands. "That way – I'm always gonna have – a lighter… in my goddamn – pocket!"

It had taken for-fucking-ever to find flint around here. And dragging together enough shit to light on fire had put him well into the afternoon.

"Cigarette – would just make me – thirstier, right?" The sparks were so goddamn small, and it was so windy. "Just CATCH!" he roared suddenly, but it didn't. He barely stopped himself before he flung the stupid useless rocks as far away from himself as he could get them in his frustration.

He sat back on his heels and closed his eyes briefly. First order of business: shelter. He had sort of got that part done. It was just a rock, a shallow overhang, but it was out of direct sunlight. And now, with noon having come and gone, shade was everything. He couldn't believe how fucking hot it was out here.

Second order of business: light a fire.

In any other place, that would have been a death sentence. Hell, it might still be a death sentence, but he wasn't worried about attracting every goddamn walker in the area. Most of them were probably sun bait by now, mummified versions of their former selves. He might be lighting a signal for the Governor and his men too, but he didn't mind that so much either. Maybe they'd take pity on his sorry ass and put a bullet through his head. That would at least be merciful.

The fire was for warmth, which was a fucking joke. Ha. Like he would ever want to be warm again after this shit. But it was also to create smoke and light for Rick. Carol. Michonne. Somebody would come looking. Rick was too good of a man to leave them out here to die. Both of them. Him and Tyreese. Tyreese, who was probably the reason he saw buzzards circling back the way he had come from. Bodies go fucking fast in heat. Those chocolate brown eyes were probably gone by now. Snap, snap, yummy.

Daryl wondered if walkers went blind. Probably a fucking hilarious sight. Watching the damn thing run into a wall over and over and over again…

"The fire, Daryl," Rick said gently. Calmly. "Start the fire."

Good Lord, the man's voice was like water. Cold, clean water. Daryl swallowed back acid and nodded. "Okay," he whispered. "Okay, man. Don't get your panties in a fuckin' twist. I'm gettin' to it. Don't happen to have a match on ya, d'ya? No? Figures."

He picked up the flint again.

x X x

When he woke up, he thought the fire had gotten out of control. It was so hot; how'd it get so close? He was careful, wasn't he?

He sat up and stared at the flames, still going, but not out of control. No, just a pretty decent blaze, whipped a little by the wind. It was just so hot. It had to be nearly the evening hours but not enough for the sun to start going down, and it was hotter than it was yesterday.

Yesterday, one of the elderly people had died from heat stroke. Those old people. They were weak as fuck. He had ended up having to drive his hunting knife straight through the poor lady's skull to make sure she didn't turn. Wait, was that yesterday? Or the day before? Fuck, he couldn't remember now. Daryl wondered if Rick was having to drive his machete through an old man's skull right now. Or maybe Glenn. Poor Glenn.

Jesus, he was so thirsty. Hungry, too, but he was so thirsty. His mouth tasted foul, and he lips were cracked worse now, bad enough to hurt. His heart was pattering along inside his chest, far faster than his normal resting pulse.

He shrunk back against the rock. It was hot, too, but he wanted to get as far away as he could from that crucifying sunshine. Like a vampire, it was gonna burn him up. Beth and her goddamn vampires. She had come across some books in one of the houses they stayed in, and now she could not shut up about some faggot named Edward. Edward was dead, he had pointed out, and what was dead should stay dead. But then she had looked like she was about to cry, so he had taken it back. What a fucking pussy.

"Sleep," Carol said gently as she patted the sandy ground. "Go to sleep, Daryl. You'll wake up when it gets dark. Then you can find those houses Tyreese was talking about. There'll be water there. A well. We'll find you."

Daryl smiled and slumped over. The ground wasn't so bad. Kind of soft, actually, and he'd slept on worse. It was almost possible to pretend that Carol's cool hand touched his forehead right before he closed his eyes.

x X x

Not much happened while Daryl slept. The vultures had been busy, that much was true. Between the time Tyreese died and when he woke up – and he did wake up – the vultures made pretty damn sure that he didn't really very much look like Tyreese anymore. That didn't stop him from being able to lunge at those same vultures and eat them raw as the craving of flesh overtook his brain, but it did make for a very grisly looking discovery just waiting to be made. And made it was.

But not before Daryl's prediction was right and another old geezer bit the dust, but it was cute little Beth with her vampire-obsession that dealt with it. Because all of the stronger ones were gone. After spotting the Governor just two miles from their location, Rick and the group realized that they needed to move, but they couldn't leave without Daryl and Tyreese. No fucking way. So, they'd gone out looking for them. It was Sasha who spotted Tyreese, half his face gone and reaching for her, but she froze, unable to pull the trigger. Luckily, little Carl was there to watch her back. He didn't even blink as he blew Tyreese's brains out the back of his head.

It took another twenty minutes before they found where he had originally died. One pool of blood. Not two. Daryl could be out there, but out there wasn't exactly a very nice thought. Not with the sun baring down on them and taking lives because it was so damn hot. Even so, Daryl was a fighter, a survivor, and Rick decided that they had to search for him, no matter how useless it could be. Everybody was reminded of Sophia, but nobody had the guts to mention it. Not with Carol there. Carol, who had already lost her little girl and looked sick at the thought of losing Daryl too.

But other than the busy buzzards, waking walker, the search team that was nowhere near Daryl's current location, and a few sporadic insects… there was not a whole lot going on right where Daryl was except the wind. Daryl had walked nearly five miles before his nap. Not that far, but like when he had been seven and hadn't known where the hell he was going, it was far enough to be perfectly lost. Tyreese's wash was closer to thirty miles away than ten, and it was east of where Daryl currently laid, sleeping restlessly with his face pushed against his arm. In his current direction, he would reach China before he would find the wash or any of the old, abandoned houses that were built along it.

On his current heading, he would reach Death Valley a long time before China.