Before he leaves the bridge, he makes a quick stop by the Civic. He lays little Sarah out on the ground, carefully as he can, so he can grab the bags from the back. He can't leave them, or else all this would've been for nothing.
He can only manage to shoulder two, but he empties out the third and crams most of what was in it into the two he's got, so at least he's not leaving anything behind. At least not anything he can carry.
As an afterthought somewhere along those lines, he climbs through the front again, and after some searching, turns up the fat little angel Joel grabbed for his wife. It won't be much comfort when her husband ain't the one giving it to her, but if he can't bring Joel back to her, least he can do is this.
He tucks it in his pocket, along with Joel's wedding ring, then loads his quiver, then his crossbow, until he's not real sure his shoulders can bear anything else. The rest of him'll manage, though, at least with one more item, and he's fixing to pick up the little girl when he notices her face is all screwed up. Careful of all the extra weight on his back, he squats, but ends up taking a knee when it hurts his thigh.
She's coming to. The little whimper's proof of it, but he don't have time to wait around for her to come the rest of the way, so he lifts her up into his arms. It takes a second to get everything positioned well enough for him to walk, and he's got both his arms full trying to carry her instead of just the one, but he moves quick anyway. He don't want to be there when the cavalry arrives.
He makes it off the bridge and maybe a quarter-mile down the road when Sarah comes around, but he doesn't stop, even when she stars crying.
"Shh," he hushes her as he goes. "S'alright." It's a lot easier to say it to someone that's not about to die. At least, he hopes she ain't. He don't know. He can't know, and he don't have time to check just yet, so he's just gotta hope.
"Where's my mommy?" she whimpers. "My tummy hurts. I want my mommy."
"I know," he says. He's going for soft, but it comes out gruff and strained. She's squirming around, and he's having trouble keeping hold of her. "She ain't here, sweetheart. She ain't comin'. Asked me to look after you."
Unfortunately, that doesn't settle her any. "Why? Where is she?"
Daryl tries to think of some way to tell her that's not gonna break her heart, but before he can muster up anything, the air's pierced by the crack of a gunshot, and Sarah lets out a cry that's equal parts startled and distraught. He knows she knows what happened, then, and she damn near breaks down in his arms, tucking herself real close and bawling. Stranger's better than nothing to a terrified child, he guesses, and he tries to live up to that when the second shot goes off, holding her closer and turning her head against his chest.
"Shh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but you gotta keep quiet for me, sweetheart." Or else they'll be joining her folks sooner rather than later. They're the walking wounded, and if they get caught up by a herd, Daryl ain't gonna be able to do much about it. Not with a busted shoulder, a bum leg, and about a buck and a half extra weighing him down.
He don't say that, though. It's just like with her mom: she's scared enough, shaking and cold in his arms, without him adding anything else to it. He wishes there was more he could do for her. Wishes he'd had the sense to grab a blanket before he ditched the Civic, except it's mid-Summer in Georgia, nearing the heat of the day. She shouldn't be cold, so he couldn't have known. That's what he tells himself, at least; he's not real sure he's bying it, though. "S'gonna be alright. I won't let nothin' happen to you." He gave that woman his word, and he means to keep it if it kills him. "Just keep quiet for me. Just keep quiet."
And she does. Between his shirt and her bottom lip, the sound's barely audible. She still whimpers, little whines slipping from her when he jars her, so he tries not to. There's just not a whole hell of a lot he can do. Just this. Just keeping her alive. Just keeping moving.
Eventually, though, he has to stop.
He's been walking for miles, now. It's been hours since he left the bridge, hours without rest, and he can't keep on anymore. His toes are numb in his right leg, and he lost feeling in his left hand about five miles back. He pushed through it, though. Had to. But now they're well away from the bridge, and Daryl's vision's starting to blur. Better to stop and take a breather now than to pass out later; he can't afford the risk.
Just a few minutes – that's all he needs. Time enough to get a drink, to re-tie the bandage on his leg, maybe give his shoulder a break. Just a few minutes.
That's the plan, at least. But then, since when've things gone according to plan for them?
He knows he should've known better the second he sits Sarah down. She dozed off not long after she woke up the first time, and she's stirred a few times since, but not for very long. And aside from a few complaints here and there, she hasn't really spoken.
She's limp when he lays her down, head lolling against the tree Daryl props her up again. Her skin's sheet white, a stark contrast to the red of Daryl's. The sum's brutal, now, and he can feel his own burning under it. Make's the chill on her stand out all the more.
He's getting nervous. This ain't right, ain't good. He's so used to looking out for fevers from the bites, it's hard to remember cold skin's bad, too, but now that's all he can think about.
It don't get any better when she starts making these pitiful little noises. Her arms, lying beside her on the ground, snake around her belly and curl tight, and Daryl feels a knot in his own gut clench.
"Let me get a look atcha," he says. This is the first chance he's gotten, now that they're back out of the red zone, and closer to home turf; he couldn't have afforded to stop sooner, and he knows it.
Still, he can't help but wish he had. Especially once he gets her arms pulled away and her shirt rolled up a little.
There's a big bruise on her left side, about the size of Daryl's fist and a dark, angry shade of purple. It ain't the look of a usual bruise, and he knows it ain't her ribs, because he can count every one of them, and the bruises is just under them. He checks just in case, though, and winces when she cries out, this high-pitched, shrill, pained sound that makes his stomach flip.
"Sorry," he says, and pulls her shirt back down before she can see, because he don't want her to see it. He's not real sure what it is, but he knows it scares him, so he can't hardly imagine what it'd do to her. "Sorry, sweetheart. Ain't gonna do it again."
As he speaks, he's pushing himself to his feet. That cry was like a dinner bell, and even if it weren't, that bruise and everything else about her has Daryl thinking he ain't got time to waste.
He tries to be gentle as he lifts her back up, once he's got everything else loaded back up, but she still cries louder, even as he tries to hush her.
"I want to go home," she sobs into his shirt.
"Me too." And he's not real sure how, but he's gonna get them there. It ain't just his life depending on it, after all. It's Sarah's. It's the people in the prison counting on the medicine, and in a way, it's Sarah's mom. She trusted him to take care of her little girl, and it don't matter if he knew her for five minutes or five years, that ain't something he's taking lightly.
No, he'll get them home. Get them back to the prison, and he ain't wasting any more time doing it. No more breaks, no more pauses. There's nothing he can do to fix whatever's wrong with Sarah, but he can do his damndest to get her to somebody that can that much faster.
He ends up changing course to do it. The roads are easier, but they aren't direct. They twist and turn around the woods and hills, and that eats up time. Cutting through the woods is faster. Harder, but faster, and he needs every second he can get. Too many people have died already; he's not losing another. He won't let it happen.
So, he starts walking again. Just like before, it don't matter that he's hurt. That he hasn't had a drink in hours, or that his skin feels like it's blistering under the sun. It don't matter that the hundred or so pounds he's toting are starting to feel more like two hundred. None of it matters as he starts into the woods, because none of it compares to the people he's got counting on him. They're what matters. Sarah, her mom, those people back at the prison that need the medicine he's carrying…the ones that aren't just relying on him, now, but have been all this time. Caryl, Hershel, Glen, Maggie…
No, he's not about to let some freak accident make him let all those people down. He owes them all something; some of them, a lot. One, nearly everything. Accidents can happen, but he ain't gonna let anything else go wrong. And it's with that in mind that he pushes ahead, grits his teeth and bears it, because he ain't got a choice.
It's a long walk home.