Daryl woke to the sound of birds in his ears. He slowly peeled his eyes open squinting against the fresh morning sun. A warm hand was gently stroking his brow. Moving his bangs back before pulling them forward in a slow repetitive manor that almost lulled the hunter back to sleep. Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered a strong hand stroking his brow but the memory was faded with age and he couldn't recall who'd cared about him like that before he'd met Rick.
"You awake?" A soft voice called from above him. Daryl rolled onto his back and gazed up at Rick. Rick was smiling faintly his eyes more at ease than they had been in a long time. He looked perfectly content like a cat after a long nap in the sun.
"Did ya sleep okay?" Daryl asked gently. He nodded.
"Yeah it felt nice to sleep beside you." Daryl flushed remembering how they'd decided to sleep in the tower with the door open (just in case there was an emergency) instead of going back to the cellblock. They'd curled up together with Rick throwing his arm over Daryl's chest while he used the hunter's muscled arm as a pillow. Daryl didn't remember really falling asleep all he remembered was the soft kissed they had shared.
Daryl did remember Rick insisting he wanted to sleep facing his (he had actually used that word much to Daryl's embarrassment) hunter. Daryl had intended to sleep but he gave Rick a quick goodnight peck which Rick returned with gusto. They ended up wishing each other goodnight numerous times with numerous kisses. Every time Daryl had closed his eyes only to open them a few seconds later he would find Rick staring at him tenderly. Their lips would meet automatically. It reached the point that Daryl couldn't figure out where one kiss ended and the other started. Their bodies grew closer and closer as if pulled by strings attached to their hearts.
Daryl sat up and stretched realizing he'd somehow ended up using Rick's thigh as a pillow. His cheeks burning he glanced at the man who grinned sheepishly clearly telling Daryl that Rick had moved him to that mortifying position when he woke up. "You were so cute I couldn't help it. I wanted to keep watching you." He flushed slightly red at the hunter's dismayed expression.
"That's damn creepy and don' call me cute." The hunter grumbled but leaned besides Rick and locked hands with him despite the blow to his pride. "So…"
"So..." Rick whispered.
"Where does this leave us?" Daryl asked the thing that had been bothering him. Rick sighed and put his head on Daryl's shoulder.
"Don't know. Can't say lovers since we haven't done it yet." Daryl snorted.
"Boyfriend makes me feel like I'm ten." The hunter responded.
"Isn't that what you are though?"
"I don' know… Am I?" Daryl hesitated as he asked. Rick squeezed his hand.
"If that's what you want to be. Personally I'm waiting with dwindling patience I might add, for the lover's part." Daryl chuckled softly squeezing Rick's hand back.
"What about… you know…" Daryl licked his lip. "Lori?"
"Ah…" The man exhaled knocking his boot against the hunter's. "Would it be selfish of me to say I don't care about her right now?" Rick stared at the trees beyond them longingly. "I mean I know she needs me, I just…" He blew out a heavy breath. "I'm tired of trying to play guessing games with her. No matter what I do I never live up to her expectations. She just doesn't make sense to me. I mean before all this she and I were barely able to be in the same room. But now I feel like the same state is too close for me. I never feel that way with you." Rick admitted softly.
Rick turned his blue eyes on the hunter who ducked his head in embarrassment. "You've always accepted me. When I'm wrong you've told me but I never had to question if you had my back. Not like Shane. Not like Lori." Daryl gripped Rick's hand reminding him he was there for him. "So you tell me what do you want? I want to make this work for you. Not just me." Rick said looking at the hunter straight in the eye. "If you want me to never talk to her again I'll do it. Hell you want to get on the bike and just leave we can do that too." He tried at a joke but it was weak and nervous just like the man himself.
Rick's eyes were probing and nearly desperate as he tried to reassure Daryl. Daryl almost felt scared by the amount Rick was willing to give up for him. He could tell Rick was joking about leaving…well mostly joking. He feared that Rick really would just up and leave if Daryl said that was what he wanted for the next step in their relationship to be. He wasn't used to that kind of affection. But then he realized this was one of those times when he needed to be the one to ground his leader. To keep him focused on the reality laid out before them. Daryl gently bopped the man on the forehead with his own. A loving head butt to remind him of reality.
"Don' be an idiot." He mumbled. "We're not goin' anywhere." He reminded the man sternly. The hunter's blue eyes strong and uncompromising. "We're stayin' here, this is our group. Yer family." Rick looked almost sad for a moment, before he nodded, sense returning to him.
"You're right. I just…lost my head for a moment." Daryl smiled gently.
"Yer the leader. They need ya. Remember?" Rick nodded. "Sides that kid is yers. Ya can' leave yer kids." Rick sighed and rubbed his eyes.
"You're right. You're always right." Daryl stood up and worked the aches out of his back.
"Not always but usually." He grinned feeling lighter than he had in weeks. Sure Lori was still Rick's wife but he also said he needed Daryl and that was enough for him.
"If Lori asks I'm telling her." Rick declared softly as he rose to his feet. He locked eyes with Daryl. I'm telling her I'm with you. That I'm done pretending we shouldn't be together. Especially when we are clearly meant to be together." Rick took his hands and tightly held them as he gazed at Daryl who looked down, his heart hammering away at his ribs. The tingling in his gut and heated cheeks made it a struggle to breathe.
Could this be real? He wondered. Was he dreaming? Was this happiness really something he could have? Was he really allowed to have joy like this, despite everything he'd done up to this point? "Daryl?" Rick whispered in his ear. "Is that alright with you?" The hunter gave a shy nod. Rick smiled and put his finger under the hunter's jaw and titled his face upward before giving him an affectionate peck on the lips. "Good." Rick held his cheek for a moment his eyes warm as he gazed at the man before him. "Now let's get this day started." Rick said dropping his hand and moving towards the ladder. Daryl nodded and followed him down.
Daryl was still feeling like this was all a dream. He'd wake up, any moment now. Until Rick gave a light hiss from his side.
"What's wrong?" The hunter asked concerned and quickly checked him over for wounds.
"Nothing. Just my leg is asleep." Daryl choked on a laugh.
"Seriously? Ya didn' say anythin' earlier." Rick blushed and scratched his cheek.
"Yeah well that's because it would be lame to complain about a numb leg while saying and confessing all that stuff to you." Daryl grinned at Rick's embarrassment which only made his cheeks brighten more.
They walked back in silence though Rick's fingers occasionally brushed against Daryl who returned the favor several times. Before they reached the building Daryl stopped and stared at one of the walkers. "What's up?"
"I was thinkin' maybe we should take that riot gear. For when we clear the infirmary and cafeteria I mean." Rick nodded.
"Makes sense to me. Let's go round everyone up and pick who's going with us first." Daryl nodded pulling the door open. Half of the group was already up and talking with each other. Spirits were still high from yesterday and everyone looked pretty good, especially after sleeping on real beds.
"Glenn, T." Rick called. The pair quickly moved to his side. "Do you think you two could get the body armor from those riot walkers outside?"
"Sure." Glenn smiled happy to help while T grumbling followed behind. Daryl watched Rick hand them his keys before the hunter headed up to the security body overlooking the dining room. By the time he'd moved the dead body outside and gathered all the supplies from the weapons locker (no guns sadly) T had returned with a pile of stinking armor. Daryl glared distastefully at the pile before setting his own supplies down.
"So I'm thinking the same team as before?" Rick asked then glanced at the men who all nodded.
"Five then?" T mumbled looking over the flash bangs Daryl had found.
"Make that five plus one." Hershel's voice cut in as he joined them at the table. Daryl was about to suggest that the farmer stay behind but he gave Daryl a glare, reminding him of the times he'd been treated by the man. He shrank back slightly not wanting to be on Hershel's bad side the next time he got hurt. "We need the supplies and more of us will make it easier to carry." Hershel explained to Rick. "Plus do you know what sort of medicine to bring from an infirmary?" They all looked down scared of the sharp gaze the older man was giving them. "Didn't think so." Hershel finished confidently. There was no way to tell him to stay behind, Hershel was right they needed him.
"Alright." Rick sighed giving in. "That's six." They looked over the supplies again most of the stuff Daryl found would only be useful against other humans. Though the flashlight were a nice bonus. Their current ones were running low on batteries. Daryl picked up the helmet from a riot walker and almost groaned as a sticky rotten liquid dripped over his fingers.
"I ain' wearin' this shit." He growled dropping the helmet back onto the sloppy mess it had made on the table.
"We could boil 'em." T suggested, he gave Daryl a playful smirk.
"Ain' enough firewood in the whole forest. No." He shot back suddenly realizing that this was T's revenge for the other day when he almost dropped a walker on his head. Daryl glared at T as he fingered one of the helmets. The look in the man's eye was dangerous and Daryl tensed ready to strike. "Don' even think about it." He growled. "Ya try puttin' that shit on me I shove ya off the roof." He warned. T licked his lips unconcerned by the hunter's threat. Carol called Hershel away back towards the cellblock and Maggie was quick to take her father's place at the table.
"Don't fight." She said stepping between them calming the situation almost instantly. T sighed and shot Daryl a look of truce, Daryl nodded as they refocused on the task at hand. But he knew he'd have to be careful. T would return the favor at some point, Daryl just hoped whatever he did for revenge wouldn't involve the disgusting riot armor. "There's only four suits so one of us will have to go without anyway."
"Two." Rick corrected looking the armor over.
"Who else is going?" She asked working to clean the gunk from inside the helmet.
"Your dad." Maggie froze for a moment biting her lip, fear clouded her bright blue eyes.
"He can take my armor." Daryl murmured trying to reassure the girl. She nodded giving the hunter a sweet look but her face was still creased with worry.
"We need his help Maggie." Rick whispered and she nodded again.
"I know I just…" She exhaled. "I worry about him. You know?" They all agreed sharing her feelings, it was hard to send any of them into danger. But this had to be done regardless of the dangers. "Well we better get these clean." She said quickly redirecting her focus as she eyed the messy puddle. "Beth come help." Maggie gathered a bundle and Beth quickly followed her sister outside. T sighed and decided to follow suit and picked up the rest of the armor.
"Guess we'll get started once these are cleaned?" He asked Rick who nodded in response. Daryl glared at the pile of slime left on the table.
"You skin animals and cut a walker's stomach open but this grosses you out?" Rick asked a playful smirk on his lips.
"Nah… it's just…" He shrugged. "The texture creeps me out okay? It's like putting your hand in melted pudding only there's chunks of meat left over. It's just plain wrong. Plus the smell is somethin' awful." Rick nodded.
"I'll give you that."
"Yer still makin' fun of me aren' ya?" Daryl grumbled bitterly. Rick tried desperately to hide his grin but he failed miserably. Daryl crossly folded his arms which only made Rick's smile grow.
"You're cute when you pout."
"I'm not poutin'!" The hunter insisted angrily. "And I'm still not cute!" Rick chuckled as he stared at the hunter. Daryl wished he could just punch Rick and force the dumb overly happy look from the man's face. But he couldn't bring himself to ruin the man's joy even if it was at his expense.
Despite the current mood Daryl couldn't help but notice the deep pit sinking in his gut. He couldn't identify the emotion behind the sickening feeling but his hair stood on end and his neck broke out in a cold sweat. He tried to probe the emotion as he tried to figure out where he'd felt it before but the feeling raced from him the moment Glenn, Maggie, and T returned their armor freshly cleaned (or as clean as they could get it.) The time to clear the prison had reached them.
Daryl had thought that the feeling in his gut would lessen as they proceeded rather smoothly through the narrow dark hallways. But it only seemed to increase with each step he took. Maybe it was the fact that the flashlights were their only real way to see a foot in front of them. Or maybe the way that the lights bounced nervously around the walls making demons out of the shadows.
Either way the hunter's heart was pounding more than usual. A good hunt or sneaking through a store full of walkers made his heart naturally speed up but nothing like this. Every step anyone took felt ten times too loud in his ears. His own breathing only interrupted by the overly loud sound of Glenn marking the way through the maze of corridors. The smell of blood and death so thick that Daryl couldn't even hope to identify the walkers by smell. The half-eaten bodies were not a good sign for the area being clear.
He jumped (but only a little) when Maggie gave a shriek behind them. Rick glanced at him, his eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed with tension. They were all feeling the unease of the place. Each corner they turned Daryl expected a horde of walkers just waiting for them. Each corner that was revealed safe just led the anxiety to sky rocket in his mind. He shifted his hand on the flashlight, his palms slick making the metal hard to grip and he feared losing hold on his only light source.
He and Rick rounded another corner and the surprise that met Daryl left him momentarily stunned. The shock made them slow to react and they scrambled to push the others away from the group of walkers. Rick yelled for them to turn back, even Daryl didn't like their odds, it was too small an area with no light. They'd be tripping over each other before they could even get close to killing the front walkers.
Daryl led the retreat driving them further from the original path and deeper into the maze. But he couldn't risk them leading the horde back to the cellblock. The first solid door they came across he pushed Rick inside before shutting the door with T after Hershel scrambled inside. They all held their breath for a moment as several of the undead inmates shambled past them.
"Where's Glenn and Maggie?" Rick whispered. Daryl realized with fear dripping down his back that they weren't in the small room with them. Hershel's eyes widened as his hands shook.
"We have to go back." Hershel hissed, Daryl nodded but when he asked if anyone knew which way they went, the scared eyes surrounding him told the hunter that none of them noticed getting separated from the group. Rather than dwell Rick eased the door open. Daryl knew Glenn and Maggie were strong fighters, especially together but that didn't stop him from biting his lip out of frustration and worry. If only he'd been watching for them, instead he'd focused single mindedly on getting them to a hiding spot. He should have been at the back so he could get them all to safety. If they were injured or worse… Daryl knew he would never forgive himself for letting the group down. It was his job to keep everyone safe. And if he failed…
Daryl shoved those thoughts aside. They're fine. We will find them. He forced his mind to repeat those thoughts, instead of noticing the feeling of dread building inside of him. But that pain in his stomach kept thrumming loudly. The feeling that he knew, the sensation increased tenfold. Hershel called softly for his kids and Daryl strained his ears to hear the pair. But all he could hear was his own ragged breathing and the low moans of walkers that had chased them off.
Daryl bit his lip sharply as his guts suddenly felt like it was being ripped out of him. He could practically feel his intestines trying to escape out of his mouth and nose. He nearly choked on the thick slimy taste of them on his tongue. Daryl could almost feel where the emotion was coming from what it meant but then it was again ripped away from him when he heard the scream. They raced back to find a walker tearing large chunks out of Hershel's leg left Daryl frozen.
He was back on the farm staring down at Dale, the man's insides spilled out all over the ground. Daryl's hand on the trigger and his hands shook. He hesitated, froze and couldn't move couldn't even bring his bow up. The sound of Rick's colt echoing in the halls and Maggie's screams felt strangely muted somehow far away, like he was watching a projection of someone else's life. Suddenly the realization of what the emotion he'd been feeling hit him. It was the same feeling he'd gotten whenever he had hidden himself under the house pressed against the cold wet dirt when he was still a young child. He'd hide motionless, feeling the spiders crawling across his soft stomach, their little legs and fangs itching his whole body like fire.
The feeling deep in his gut was the feeling of dread, of an end. Something was ending and Daryl had trained himself to make sure it wasn't his end when the intuitive pain inside him struck. But this wasn't his end it was Hershel's. Daryl feels like he's seven years old again. He's in that clearing feeling his body slowly achingly shut down. His end slowly dragging him under the layer of consciousness. He started feeling like he was disappearing from his body. Daryl's eyes started to drift shut the cold too much for his body and he could feel the energy draining from him.
"Daryl!" Rick hollered and the hunter's eyes snapped open. His body automatically moving to Rick's aid, he shot without thought dropping one of the walkers. That's right, he reminded himself. He didn't die then in that field, he didn't die in Atlanta, he didn't die at the farm and he wouldn't die now. He wasn't going to let any of them die here not when he could still struggle and claw at the chains of his and their destiny. His resolve strengthened, Daryl clenched his jaw letting the others pass him as they escaped. They were surrounded but if there was even a chance of him saving the others he would gladly give everything in his body and soul for them.
Suddenly the others surged forward and Daryl rushed into a brighter room than the previous gloom. His eyes almost blind for a moment before he heard, "The door! Shut the door!" He slammed his whole body against it keeping it secure while Rick put Hershel on the dirty ground below them.
"Have you got it?!" Daryl yelled at T-Dog who nodded shakily. Daryl grabbed whatever cloth littered the ground as he tried to figure out how to get a makeshift tourniquet around Hershel's thigh. The clanking of Rick undoing his belt and his words instructing Daryl to hold the elderly man down was all he could hear aside from the whimpers and moans from Hershel. The hunter felt hollow inside no thoughts could reach him. Rick looked up at him his whole body nearly trembling. But the man's eyes were steady as they gazed at each other. Daryl was suddenly reminded of the talk they'd had so long ago, about snake bites and infection.
"I pray we never find ourselves in the position of testing your theory out." Rick had said to him. Daryl gave a small nod to Rick letting him know he was with him before pressing his body onto Hershel's stomach more. It was the only chance they had to save him. He and Rick knew it but they were betting everything on Daryl's idea, their friend's life risked all on one conversation.
"Fuck." Daryl hissed through clenched teeth. This was going to work, it had to. He gripped Hershel's thigh with both hands above the tourniquet knowing the pain would make the man scramble to get away instinctually. He squeezed as hard as he could hoping to deaden the limb further and stop more blood from rushing to the wound and less of the infected blood from entering the man's body.
The glint of the axe had Daryl look down but the wet crunching sound couldn't escape his ears. The sound of bone being cut was just too wrong. He'd killed and skinned animals but they were dead. Hershel was… is Hershel. Daryl bit his lip forcing the limb still when it tried to jerk away from the pain. The screams from Hershel suddenly cut out and Daryl trembled as Rick gave one final sickening strike to the nearly severed limb. Hershel just passed out. Daryl repeated over and over in his mind. The hunter looked up when Rick gave a very low moan, his body pale contrasted by the red stains on his hands. Rick sank to the floor, the adrenaline leaving his body completely.
"He's bleeding out." He mumbled nearly monotone clearly in shock. Something behind Rick's head caught Daryl's eye. At first he thought it was walkers.
"Duck." He breathed pointing his crossbow and flashlight at the shapes He realized they weren't walkers when one of them whispered.
"Holy shit." Daryl hoped he'd gone completely crazy and was just hallucinating the five men staring at them but when they responded to his question he knew things had just gotten so much worse. Being bat shit crazy was almost preferable to having five potentially (probably) hostile men in the room while Hershel was bleeding out. This day is the worst combination of events ever, Daryl thought baring his teeth in a snarl. He hoped he could intimidate them to leave the group alone. The fact that they'd just cut off Hershel's limb had to work in their favor.
But the men while clearly shocked didn't back down. Daryl could hear chaos behind him but he kept his razor focus on the men in front of him. He forced them out slowly and watched as the one with the mean look in his eyes and the violent tattoos pulled a gun out. Daryl hissed at him telling him no one needed to get hurt. T backed him up with his own gun leaving the man torn between who to aim at. The others jumped back slightly when Glenn rushed past for supplies.
Daryl didn't doubt the one with the gun was the leader of this little gang. The little one with the mustache befitting a bad black and white villain in a cowboy film quickly realized they weren't a rescue team. Daryl noticed his arms were crossed against his chest, self-defense not a fighter the hunter reasoned. The point further pressed when he flinched and looked visibly ill at Hershel's leg. Even when the door opened Daryl didn't move keeping his arrow trained on the leader not trusting him for a second. It was only when Rick called for him with desperation in his voice did he edge towards the door. Rick clearly had no intention of leaving him behind. Daryl took slow steps backwards not risking any lapse in guard.
Daryl shot the single walker blocking their way before letting the others move in front of him. He heard voices behind them, the five men were clearly following them. Daryl growled softly holding his arrow tightly, he knew he didn't have the time to reload before they reached them. He pushed the group onward and opened the locked door but he trailed behind the others as they rushed Hershel to the beds. Daryl slotted his arrow into his crossbow and propped his leg against the nearby chair. He aimed at the darkness behind the door. His eyes narrowed and his best Dixon fight face screwed on his features. He didn't have to wait long for the men to emerge from the blackness.
"That's far enough." He hissed willing to put them down without a second thought to protect his group. The leader growled right back saying that the cell block they had worked so hard for was his. Daryl forced the growl back down his throat telling the men in no uncertain terms they were to leave now. The leader attempted to intimidate Daryl and pulled his gun out again. Daryl knew he could take a bullet or two (he'd done it before) but he doubted he could kill the leader before the others jumped on him. The biggest of the group tried to foster peace and suggested they leave.
Most of them seemed to agree with the idea of leaving but the leader was smarter than Daryl had figured and reasoned they had broken into the prison because they had no other choice. The leader refused to budge while the others tried to convince him to leave. It was a stalemate until T appeared from the shadows pointing his own gun at the guys. They argued, Daryl growling at them again to leave.
He licked his lips considering maybe it was worth the risk of attacking the men now that T had joined him. He wasn't sure how much ammo he had but maybe between the two of them they'd be able to kill them all. But Rick's sudden arrival made him pause in his planning. Things calmed considerably at Rick's arrival his powerful stance and calm voice bringing the nearly boiling situation back to a simmer. The prisoners admitted they'd been locked up for nearly ten months in that cafeteria. They said that the prison had fallen to a riot, that things went insane before they were locked up in the room.
So then he had been right, Daryl thought thinking about the dead inmates they'd seen. They had had no idea what was going on before they were killed either by the guards attempting to return peace or the walkers that started to overrun everything. Rick gently explained the harsh reality of the situation to the men letting them know that the world truly had ended and they were lucky (unlucky) enough to have survived it.
The prisoners stared in shock and disbelief, it didn't fade even when they took them outside to prove how things could never go back to what they were. The leader was quicker to adapt to the situation than his men. His mean eyes dark as he fronted on Rick. Rick didn't give an inch Daryl knew there was no way in hell his leader would give up the prison they'd worked fought for. Daryl eyed the two men as the tattooed man said they could stay in the field. Daryl nearly laughed out loud, a lot of balls for a guy who doesn't have shit to back it up, he thought. The feeling of sense of nostalgia licking at the back of his mind, he realized the man reminded him of some of Merle's scumbag biker friends. The assholes who thought beating women and children was a good way to pass time.
Daryl glared and fingered his knife, he wanted to ram it down the man's throat but he trusted Rick to handle things. Still that didn't stop the anger rising in his gut when he saw the way the man tried to threaten Rick. No one was allowed to do that to his leader.
"This prison is ours." Rick hissed and Daryl couldn't help the smirk that grew on his lips. Rick didn't back down for a second, he wasn't an unreasonable man but he was no push over either. Lesser men would fold in situations like this but not Rick, and Daryl felt his admiration for the man swell. A strange part of him almost felt like Rick was confronting the hunter's dark past with his arguments. It was irrational, Daryl knew that but he couldn't help the rushing feeling in his chest as he watched Rick's strong frame protecting the group.
When the leader realized Rick wouldn't give up the prison he got angry and pulled the gun out again. Daryl pressed his crossbow up into the man's personal space. No one points a gun at Rick like that and gets away with it, he thought angrily. The smaller mustached guy tried again to play peace maker, however the idea of leaving clearly didn't sit well with the leader. Daryl thought he saw a hint of fear when he suggested they try their luck on the road. But then the angry demanding look was back when he declared they'd take over a cellblock with weapons provided by the group.
Rick was quick though and went after their food supplies. He said they'd take half in exchange for the groups help. Daryl again felt his heart jump at the strength of his leader, of the strategic prowess and the ability to turn any encounter into one that worked for the group's benefit. Merle would have killed them all and taken everything but not Rick.
He would keep his word and help them (as long as they kept theirs) and still get something in return. He didn't kill because he could, that wasn't his way. Rick only killed those who were beyond saving. He still had enough humanity in him to try to forge bridges. Daryl watched as Rick secured the food but left them with a grave warning, that he would kill the inmates if they tried anything against his people. Daryl knew it would never come to that because he'd kill them himself before they could even get a chance to hurt his friends. As they walked back to the cafeteria. The mustached one took a chance to introduce himself and the others.
"I'm Axel." He smiled gently at Daryl who kept his grip tight on his crossbow. He didn't worry about Axel he wouldn't be a huge threat if it came down to a fight but he wasn't sure about the others. "That's Andrew." Axel pointed to the smallest of the group. He reminded Daryl of a Chihuahua and how they always seem to think they're so big and tough. "The one in front of him is Oscar." Daryl stared at him next, he couldn't get a read on Oscar. The man had been mostly quiet only talking when he showed concern over his dead family. Daryl decided he was either still in shock or was just naturally quiet. "Behind us is Big Tiny." Big Tiny smiled rather meekly considering his large frame. Daryl wouldn't want to go up against him but the man seemed more peaceful than the others so far.
"And yer leader?" Daryl asked glaring at the man's back.
"That's Tomas." Daryl nodded but didn't give his name or any of the group's names to Axel. He didn't seem like a terrible guy so far but that didn't mean he'd trust him.
The amount of food they had was amazing, it had been a damn long time since they'd had food like that. Daryl checked over the supplies while his love and respect for Rick swelled yet again. Rick had managed yet again to save the group. They had been nearly desperate for food supplies jus this morning but this would last them all a good while. He was not only the luckiest son of a bitch out there, he was also the best kind of leader anyone could hope for.
While Rick and T ran the food back to the group Daryl stayed behind eyeing the men. Tomas and Andrew were whispering to each other. The hunter noted that Andrew kept shooting him little glances as they talked. He must be terrible at poker, Daryl thought knowing they were obviously talking about killing him before going after the others. Daryl's eyes narrowed almost wishing they would make a move so he could justify getting rid of them before they became a problem. His group would get to keep all the food and it would keep everyone safe, a win win in his mind. Daryl could play the attack dog for Rick, if it meant keeping his hands clean for the group's sake. They needed a leader whose hands were mostly clean from murder. They didn't need a hunter with that level of clenliness. Daryl licked his lip itching to engage the men.
As if sensing the atmosphere Axel and Big Tiny moved closer to him. The hunter naturally tensed feeling like they were trying to box him in. Instead of grabbing his arms like he assumed they would they started conversing lightly with him.
"Are they…" Axel licked his lips struggling to find the right words. "Hard to kill?" Daryl cocked his head to the side. "Those things… the cannibals?"
"No. As long as yer smart they can be dealt with." He mumbled not in the mood for talking. Rick and T returned with weapons and they went over the ground rules. Rick put Daryl and T at the front while he placed himself in the back. He didn't like the idea of not being at Rick's side but he knew his leader could hold his own and T would need help at the front of the line. Especially with a group of men who'd never killed walkers before. Tomas was especially worrisome with his over reliance on his gun. The last thing they needed was him to get trigger happy and bring the whole prison of dead down on them. The hunter hoped he could kill all the walkers before they got to the back rows.
Daryl led them slowly and when two walkers stumbled across their path he waited getting ready to give the signal for a group attack, before he could even reach go the men charged yelling and stabbing the walkers in the chest and stomach. Daryl sighed and rolled his eyes watching them attack the walkers like you would a human during a prison riot. Rick looked beyond exhausted by the men. They shared a look before kill the two walkers the prisoners failed to before moving onward. "The brain." Daryl hissed having no patience for their bullshit. The men behind him repeated it softly like a prayer before attacking the rotten heads before them. The large group of walkers quickly fell under the leadership of Rick and Daryl who kept the formation tight and together.
But a scream behind them made the hunter's blood run cold. Things could never be easy. They rushed back to see Big Tiny's eyes wide and Rick finishing off a walker in front of him. Before Daryl could even move Tomas pulled his gun and shot the walker besides Rick. Daryl twitched his body nearly moving into attack mode. He knew Tomas had killed the walker but… it looked like he had aimed at Rick. Almost like he'd hoped to hit Rick before hitting the walker.
The shots echoed in the dead hallways bouncing throughout the area probably alerting every walker in the vicinity to their presence. The hunter looked at Rick who gave him a steady gaze letting him know he was fine and there wasn't any reason to do anything rash. But then he noticed the look of terror in Tiny's eyes. Rick saw it too and while the other men pleaded with them to save him he looked again to his hunter. Their eyes locked and silently agreed he'd have to be dealt with now. Daryl made a step forward volunteering to do it himself, if the prisoners hated him that was fine but Rick was still the leader he needed to keep his hands clean of this. If there was to be any hope of them getting along they needed a scapegoat and Daryl knew he fit the bill perfectly.
Before he could even close the gap Tiny crumbled to the ground. The blow so sudden he almost couldn't understand what had happened. They all watched in shock and horror as Tomas bludgeoned Tiny to death. He didn't stop even when the man's head was pulp and continued to beat the mess bloody, splattering the walls, his face, and body with the blood. He turned and looked at them all, his eyes dark and full of malice as he stared hard at Rick. The hunter fingered his knife wanting nothing more than to push the man away from Rick, no one could look at his leader like that while he was around. Daryl felt the pit of rage burning in his gut. This man was dangerous, worse he seemed intent on making a move against Rick.
As the group made their way through the hallways Daryl waited for Rick at the back. He was glaring daggers at Tomas which was more restrained than Daryl would be. He wanted to just ram his blade down the man's eye socket. Rip his eyes out for daring to look at Rick the way he had. It was obvious the man was dangerous but the question was if Rick wanted him dealt with now. If so Daryl had zero problem eliminating the threat.
"Ya see the look on his face?" Daryl breathed to Rick who nodded slightly.
"He makes one move…"
"Just give me a signal." The hunter returned without hesitation letting Rick know he would be willing to do whatever was necessary to keep his leader safe. Rick gently touched the hunter's arm giving it a quick squeeze. The look in his eyes said he'd do whatever had to be done just like Daryl himself was prepared to do.
In the next room the men spread out slightly. There was a little more breathing room and hopefully they could contain the flow of walkers to just a couple at a time thus minimizing the danger. Behind the door Daryl heard the soft growling of the walkers who were pawing at the closed door. He licked his lips and tossed the keys at Tomas' feet as Rick instructed him to open it. Daryl wouldn't put T or Rick at risk opening the door, if they wanted it then they should do the hard part he reasoned. Opening the door was by far the worse job. The probability of getting grabbed was higher than any other position. If the walkers were especially restless they might surge on the doorman overwhelming him before the backup could probably kick in. It was a role he and Rick usually took. Just to keep everyone else safe.
Tomas looked ready to spit venom when Rick made him open the door. Rick instructed he was to open one door and Tomas glared at the men around him almost like he expected the men to volunteer to do it for him. Daryl wanted to see Tomas do something hard for once all he'd done so far was kill one of his friends and fuck up their stealth approach. Tomas adjusted his grip on the handles and the hunter raised his own crossbow keeping it level with the door where he could easily shoot any walker that stumbled through the portal.
With a wrenching motion Tomas flung both of the doors opened letting a flood of undead into the cramped room. Daryl hissed when Tomas yelled,
"Shit happens." At Rick who was busy trying to stem the tide. Daryl shot the walkers behind the ones in front before taking out the one that was in front of Rick before he could even raise his blade. Daryl pressed the crossbow down to the ground to reload, before he had fully reloaded he looked up in time to see Tomas make a wide swing at a walker. He didn't connect at all and instead forced Rick to duck as the pick came sailing towards his face. Daryl stabbed a walker in the eye his teeth bared in a snarl. He couldn't believe that Tomas had accidentally missed so badly, instead he must have made the move in an attempt on Rick's life. Before the hunter could finish dropping the walker Tomas pulled a walker to him and shoved it into Rick who collapsed under the snapping dead weight.
Daryl shoved Tomas out of his way towards the walkers hoping he'd get bit by one of them while he rushed to Rick's aid. He fiercely stabbed the walker in the head making sure it was completely dead as he threw it off his leader. Daryl helped Rick to his feet checking him over quickly for wounds. His leader gave a quick nod showing he was alright. They turned to see the majority of the walkers already dead and Rick glared icily at Tomas. Tomas mumbled that the walker was coming at him, which nearly made Daryl shoot the man in the face himself. But Rick's emotionless voice kept him back as he assessed the situation.
"Shit happens." Rick whispered repeating Tomas' own line. Daryl watched as Rick's eyes seemed to go cold and almost blank as he stared at Tomas. The whole room was silent as Tomas and Rick stared each other down. Daryl eyed the other men around the room watching the exchange. He expected one of them to do something rash, he didn't expect Rick's next move. Rick twitched and slammed his blade down onto Tomas' head. Blood dripped down his face as he collapsed to the ground. All the months of taking walkers down in the same way served Rick well.
Andrew yelled before Rick turned and kicked him hard in the stomach sprawling the man before he took off out the door. Rick quickly turned and rushed after him. Daryl growled at Oscar to get down. He dropped his axe while T aimed his gun at Axel. Axel tried to make an excuses over what happened while Oscar told him to shut up. Daryl was grateful for that but it didn't change the fact that he was going to kill them if they dared to move a muscle.
Daryl strained his ears for Rick and Andrew but he couldn't detect anything. He had heard Rick running after him but once they reached the far side of the prison they left the range of his hearing. He bit his lip wishing he could be there to back the man up. But Daryl kept his guard over Oscar and Axel letting Rick handle Andrew. Despite his focus he couldn't help his mind from wandering. Why had it come to that? Daryl was glad Tomas was dead, he was a scumbag plain and simple but why did Rick have to be the one to kill him? It should have been his responsibility to kill Tomas. It never should have been Rick to do such a deed. He told Rick on the farm that there was no need for him to do all the hard stuff, yet once again Rick was doing the hard stuff without asking for his help.
Was it because he didn't trust him? But Rick had said more than once that he trusted him, was that only for easy stuff? Did he not trust him to kill for him? Sure Daryl had reservations about killing people but anyone who threatened the group was an enemy plain and simple, no reason to hesitate with them. As his mind started to drift Daryl found himself thinking of his brother. Would Rick have trusted Merle to kill Tomas? Was Merle the kind of man Rick really needed? Was that what he wanted Daryl to be? An attack dog? A merciless killer?
As Daryl struggled with his thoughts Rick rounded the corner his eyes bright as he stormed back into the room. The hunter stared at him looking for a sign of how it had gone with Andrew. Rick didn't say anything and didn't even look at the man. Instead he stepped over the dead bodies and ripped his gun out of the holster where he pressed it to the forehead of Oscar. Daryl took a small step back watching closely as Rick stared the man down. For Oscar's credit he didn't make a sound or start pleading for his life like Axel did. All he said was they had nothing to do with Tomas' plan. Despite everything Daryl believed him. Of the group Tiny, Axel, and Oscar seemed the most humane (when compared to people like Tomas anyway.)
"Daryl let's end this now!" Rick yelled getting worked up as he moved onto Axel. Daryl ripped his knife out and pulled Oscar's head back as he pressed it tight against his throat. The man barely moved even with the blade against him. A small part of the hunter could appreciate his calm. It was something that had been drilled into him from day one. If you're going to die do it like a man not like a sniveling little bitch. That was the Dixon way. But if Rick gave the word Daryl would kill them, regardless of how he felt about the men. Axel started begging and pleading with Rick saying they weren't the violent types like Tomas and Andrew.
That Daryl believed they didn't seem to have the stones to kill people because they could. Still he wondered what his brother would do in this sort of situation. Would he kill them? Would he force them to obey Rick's lead? Of course knowing Merle he'd be in charge or he would have left the moment he realized he couldn't be in charge. If the world was going to hell then Merle would want to be the captain of his own personal cruise ship to the fiery depths.
Rick seemed to grow annoyed by Axel's pleading for he rounded on Oscar and pressed the gun to the man's forehead while Daryl pressed the knife in deeper. He couldn't help but glance up at his leader. Wondering if this really was the correct path. But Rick hadn't led them down a bad road so far and he intended to trust his leader. Rick licked his lips and glanced at Daryl checking to see what the man thought. Daryl tried to convey he was with Rick no matter what he decided. He wouldn't try and pass any moral judgment on the man, it was clear he was getting enough of that from Lori. Daryl might have misgivings about killing them but if Rick thought they were too dangerous to be left alive he would agree and he wouldn't blame Rick especially after what Tomas had done to him.
But whatever Rick saw in Daryl's eyes helped him to decide. He put the gun back in its holster before he glanced at Daryl giving him a quick nod. The hunter realizing what he had in mind put his knife away while Rick allowed Oscar to climb to his feet. Axel followed suit but looked at the men nervously not that Daryl could blame him. Rick stared at the wall quietly like he was lost in his own mind and the silence dragged on for a moment before he suddenly started moving towards the door. "The way forward is clear." He said giving no other explanation. The walk to the new cellblock was uneventful considering the last few minutes. When they opened the final door Axel and Oscar stepped into the block and the dead bodies greeted them. The inmates' bodies were long dead and rotting but none of them were walkers. Daryl was repulsed slightly to find the dead inmates with their hands bound behind their back. The bullet holes in the back of the head told the story of how they'd died without any chance. They may have been bad men but that didn't mean they deserved to die like dogs.
"Men die worse ways in here and out there." Merle whispered in his ear. Daryl shook his head slightly forcing the voice of his brother to leave him. While he focused on keeping the voice of Merle out of his head, Rick explained that the men should never interact with their group again. That it was the deal they'd made. He told them they were leaving.
"Sorry about your friends, man." Daryl whispered to the men before following Rick out. He knew Rick intended to shut down the prison block and he didn't disagree with the decision but he did know it would be hard to move all the dead bodies with just two men. Still it was Oscar and Axel's problem now. They'd kept their word and gave them the cellblock anything more would put the whole group at risk.
At the door Rick was staring at the wall his eyes blank, Daryl let T go past him towards the rest of the group while he remained behind with Rick. The hunter scuffed the ground with the toe of his boot while he tried to figure out what to say. He noticed Rick's lips were moving slightly almost as if he were saying something only he could hear. With the glazed look in his eyes it made Daryl very nervous, so nervous he touched Rick's arm. The man jumped slightly at the contact and finally met Daryl's eyes. "Want to talk about it?" He asked staring at Rick hard. The man smiled slightly but his eyes looked tired and weary.
"Not really." Daryl nodded at Rick's words. When a man doesn't want to talk about something there's no point in forcing him, the hunter reasoned.
"Alright. Then let's head back." He noticed that his leader's eyes widened considerably like he was surprised that Daryl wouldn't press the matter. Rick hesitated fingering his keys as he stared back the way they'd come. "If ya want we can talk later?" Daryl suggested softly trying not to force him into anything he didn't want. Rick worried his lip before nodding.
"Yeah I think… that would be good." Daryl noticed the hesitation in his voice before he finished his sentence. The hunter couldn't help but feel that Rick didn't really want to talk but he didn't see the point in talking him out of it especially since the man's eyes finally showed life. "Let's go." Rick mumbled leading them away. "We need to check on things."
"Yeah. I want to see if Hershel…" Daryl trailed off. Rick nodded in agreement they both felt the same. Without words the emotions in their minds matched. They hoped Hershel was still alive but both highly doubted it and figured they'd be greeted by sobbing and desperation.
As the entered the cellblock Daryl realized he could hear no muffled sobs, no whimpers, or no words of consolation. That sent his pulse racing his mind automatically jumping to the worst scenario possible. Had Hershel reanimated and killed the group before they had solved the problem with the prisoners? Would he and Rick walk into a room full of blood from their loved ones? The image of Carl bleeding out while Beth was held by a sobbing Maggie and Lori's stomach ripped open as Carol collapsed in the corner was especially thick in the hunter's mind. As they rushed forward the images got progressively worse as Daryl saw each member of his group killed in horrific scenarios.
The pair found themselves nearly running towards the block with everyone in it, terror dripping deep in their lungs. It was only until they saw T lingering at the door waiting for them that they allowed their bodies to relax. Both men exhaled deeply realizing the fears were unwarranted.
As they approached the cell Carl, Glenn, and Lori updated them on the situation. Hershel had stopped breathing yet somehow miraculously there was still no fever ravaging his body. No infection trying to claw the man from them. Rick neared Hershel his eyes trembling in sorrow. Daryl took a place behind Carl peering through the bars giving the people closest to Hershel their time with him. The air felt so cold despite the summer heat filtering through the windows. As they watched Hershel's eyelids slowly trembled and opened shakily. The group exhaled collectively as he the man looked around him. There was nothing dead in his eyes. Just the opposite, Daryl could see Hershel, there was no walker inside him waiting to tear them apart.
Rick took Hershel's trembling hand and clasped it tightly between his. The look in Rick's eyes was impossibly deep and vulnerable almost like he expected to be blamed for allowing Hershel to lose his limb. But there was no blame passed from the old man only a look that said how grateful he was. Rick looked around at the group smiling at them. His eyes linger on Daryl the longest.
Rick stared trying to convey a message to the hunter but for once Daryl couldn't understand what was in the man's gaze. He wasn't sure he wanted to. Sure Daryl's theory had been right and Hershel was alive but what was the cost? The price was so high. Just like every moment in their fragile lives they'd managed to escape disaster but it didn't come cheaply. Yet another member had to pay a toll that only seemed to grow with each passing day.
This time it had cost Hershel but how long before it cost Rick? Before it cost them all? Their luck couldn't hold out forever and sooner or later it would cost them all greatly. Daryl found himself struggling to enjoy in the moment. The feeling that he should have done better weighed heavily on him. Lori pushed past him, her eyes dark and Daryl was reminded that the storm on the horizon had only been put off for a few more days. The pain in his gut was slowly returning to him and Daryl found himself wondering whose end it would be this time.
It's been a really long time hasn't it? I'm sorry for the long break between chapters! I've been on vacation the last few weeks and it's made it very difficult to write. Like I said I'm super duper sorry! I had hoped to have this posted way sooner but like I said life got in my way. But the good news is it's up now! I can't thank you all enough for your super and your patience with me for taking so long! Like always the reviews and favorites always encourage me and help me to work harder! Thank you again! If you have the time let me know what you think of this new chapter! I always love to see what you guys think!
I'm really excited because the next chapter is something I've been looking forward to! I hope to see you all in chapter 24! I think it'll be one to look forward to! I hope you're all doing well and I'll see you in the next chapter! If you have the time please review! Otherwise see you next time!