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Daryl Dixon x Reader Oneshots

Chapter Text

It was hot.

And not your every day Georgian heat — but a new level of humidity that had sweat dripping from every inch of your body the second the sun came up. You had lost track of the months as time went on, but if you had to guess, you’d say it was right about the middle of July. 

With the way the world was now, the dead up and walking, humanity turning against itself, the least you deserved was a slight breeze. 

“What I would do for a glass of ice cold water right about now,” you muttered to yourself, wiping the sweat from your forehead with the back of your hand. Sighing, you readjusted your grip on the shotgun you held, scanning the abandoned parking lot for signs of movement. 

The area was mostly clear — save for a couple of long since abandoned cars, stray shopping carts, and the half a dozen walkers you and Daryl had taken down moments before. 

You joined up with Rick’s group a couple months back — they had just lost their farm and were on the run, attempting to find a safe haven to ride the winter out until finding a more permanent home. 

As for you, you’d been on your own for a while — you were an only child and both of your parents had died years before everything went to hell. 

After the world ended, you caught wind of a group that planned to make the trek to Fort Benning, unsure if the army base was still up and running. With no where else to go, it seemed like the smartest option for you.

The group of fifteen had only gotten a quarter of the way there before you started losing people. Some were torn to shreds by herds of walkers, a few were bit and had to be put down — others just lost hope and faded away. Before you knew it, you were the last one standing.

But then you met a group of people — a group of survivors. And everything changed.

You’d been taking shelter inside an abandoned house, trying to ride out the winter. You were dangerously low on supplies but the thought of going outside with no backup scared you more than starving to death. You’d been debating whether or not to scavenge the houses on the other side of the neighborhood when a scream came from outside, drawing your attention to the frost covered window. 

You saw a group of people out on the street surrounded by more walkers than they could handle. A few of the men were fending off the dead with knives and machetes, forming a tight circle around other members of the group. One of the women, you realized in horror, seemed to be pregnant. 

Part of you knew you shouldn’t get involved, shouldn’t draw attention to yourself. But a bigger part of you couldn’t sit and do nothing. Resolutely, you grabbed your shot gun and swung open the door. You spotted a walker creeping up behind a man with a crossbow strung across his shoulder and pointed your weapon that way, cocking the gun and pulling the trigger, landing a perfect headshot. 

The man jumped in surprise, his eyes scanning the area until they landed on you. You let out a shaky breath at the intensity of his gaze, lowering your weapon slightly. A moment passed between you two, before he gave you a quick nod and stabbed the next walker he saw. With your help, the group was able to take down every walker on that street. 

It took a little while for you to gain everyone’s trust and vice versa, but in no time, you fit right in with the group. Truth be told, you felt more at home with them than you had in a long time. 

“Y/N?” came a gruff voice, snapping you out of your thoughts. You glanced backwards, locking eyes with the crossbow wielding man you later came to know as Daryl. “Ya good?” he asked, wiping his hands on the red rag he kept in his back pocket.

You nodded quickly, averting your gaze from his penetrating stare. “How’s the lock comin’ along?” you motioned to the chains wrapped around the doors to the grocery store the two of you were trying to scavenge. 

“It ain’t,” Daryl heaved, tucking the rag back into his pocket.

“We can head back to the prison — see if T-Dog has any tools we can use?” you offered, hefting your shotgun up to rest on your shoulder.

“Can’t afford ta use up gas like that,” he countered, turning his back on you to peer in the window. 

You sighed, closing your eyes and taking a breath. “It’s damn hot today,” you mumbled. “The world’s gone to shit, there are zombies trying to eat our brains, and I might actually die of a heat stroke. How embarrassing is that?”

Daryl huffed and cocked his head towards you, giving you a look. But you could see the humor in his eyes that never quite reached his face.

When you first joined the group, Daryl steered clear of you — you were completely convinced he hated your guts. But as time went on and you began to spend more time with him, slowly but surely, he began to open up. Not that he would bear his soul to you or anything, but every once in a while, the two of you would actually have meaningful conversation. 

Daryl was a lot more intuitive than he liked to let on, but you could see right past that tough exterior. You found comfort in his presence, which was a hard feat to come by these days. Truthfully, you felt the safest when you were with Daryl — not that you would ever admit that out loud.

But a small part of you liked to think he already knew — by the way he would hover a little closer when the two of you left the prison. Or when faced against some kind of danger, he always positioned himself slightly in front of you without even realizing it. You never actually voiced how he made you feel, but you figured Daryl caught on. He had a way of reading you like no one else could.

“Ah, screw this,” Daryl growled, snapping you once again out of your thoughts. He pushed away from the window and grabbed the crossbow he had propped up against the building. “Let’s go ‘round back an’ try ‘ta find another way in.”

Nodding in agreement, you reached for your backpack and strapped it to your back, falling into step beside Daryl as the two of you made your way around the building. “Lori’s almost due,” you murmured aloud. “You think we’ll find any supplies here for the baby?”

Daryl shrugged a shoulder, scanning the area cautiously, always on alert. “Hope so,” he said simply.

Sighing heavily, you rubbed at the base of your neck where there always seemed to be mounting pressure. “Do you ever wish you weren’t here?” you suddenly asked, the question popping out before you could think about it.

Daryl’s steps faltered a moment before he grunted and shook off the surprise. “The hell kind a question is that?”

“I mean, do you ever wonder if any of this is worth it? The constant danger, losing the people you love,” you rattled, peeking a glance at him. “Sometimes I think about what it’d be like to not be here.”

Daryl’s steps slowed and you could suddenly feel waves of tension rolling off him. You couldn’t bring yourself to look at him, feeling your cheeks turn red from your sudden revelation.

Suddenly, you felt a hand grab your elbow, pulling you to a stop. Your gaze landed on Daryl and flickered to where he held your arm. When you lifted your eyes back to him, you were met with his penetrating stare, expression unreadable. 

His deep blue eyes trailed over your face, as if he was trying to read you the same way you were trying to read him. A heavy moment of silence passed as the two of you stared at one another, an almost palpable current of electricity coursing through you.

Daryl cleared his throat, looking like he struggled for words. “For what it’s worth,” he finally spoke, his deep voice rumbling just above a whisper, “I’m glad you’re here.”

Before you could come up with a response, a rustling behind you tore your gaze from him. And just like that, the two of you were back in survival mode. Daryl came to stand by your side, crossbow aimed towards the trees as you raised your shotgun in the same direction. The rustling faded and all that was left was a heavy silence.

“C’mon, let’s keep movin’,” Daryl whispered as he crept along the side of the grocery store, you right on his heels.

The two of you rounded the corner and ended up at the back of the grocery store. You nudged Daryl with your elbow and nodded towards the broken in back door. Crossbow armed and ready, Daryl crept to the door and whistled, waiting to hear any movement inside. After a few moments passed, he motioned for you to follow him inside.

Immediately you were hit with a putrid smell, like rotting food mixed with rotting flesh, and you felt a wave of nausea. Daryl seemed to be equally affected and covered his mouth and nose with the crook of his arm. Ignoring the way your stomach heaved, you focused on breathing slowly through your mouth. 

Using the butt of your shotgun, you tapped one of the empty metal shelves near you, the sound echoing throughout the large market. The two of you waited with baited breath for the sound of any other living or non living thing to make itself known.

After a few moments of silence, you released the breath you’d been holding and looked at Daryl. “I think we’re good to go.”

Daryl just grunted, which over the past few months, you came to interpret as an agreement. 

“Why don’t you check out the back of the store and I’ll head to the front?” you offered, already making your way up one of the aisles. You didn’t get far before you felt Daryl grabbing your arm once again. 

“Naw, I think we ought ‘ta stick together,” he admitted, his face drawn tightly. 

“It’ll take us twice as long if we stick together — this store is huge,” you said slightly incredulous. 

“I ain’t lettin’ ya go off on your own. This place ain’t safe, Y/N.”

You sighed, feeling your heart swell regardless. 

Things with Daryl were complicated. The two of you had gone from barely speaking to being…friends? You’d like to think you were at least friends, but Daryl was hard to read. You never really knew where you stood with him. There was a part of you, one that you tried very hard to ignore, that longed for something more.

“We’ll be in and out,” you exhaled finally, resting your hand on Daryl’s arm, ignoring the way he tensed. “Promise.”

Daryl seemed to have an internal struggle, but eventually nodded, not looking too pleased. “Anythin’ happens, I mean anythin’, ya just holler an’ I’ll be there.”

“You got it, Dixon,” you retorted, giving him a small salute. Daryl just scoffed and rolled his eyes, but you could see the hint of a smile as he walked away.

Pleased with your small victory, you made your way up the aisle and to the front of the store. You surveyed your surroundings — noticing how empty the store already was, having been ravaged by other survivors. Deciding to start with the canned food section, you headed that way, keeping your gun ready to fire. 

The aisle was almost completely cleared out, which wasn’t too surprising. You grabbed what little was left on the shelves — two cans of corn, one can of peaches, two cans of black beans, some kind of canned meat — and shoved them into your backpack. You hefted the bag back onto your shoulders and continued on.

From the back of the store, you could hear Daryl rummaging around and hoped he was having more luck than you were. 

You were about to head to the toiletry section, when you heard a noise coming from the far right side of the store. Your heart began to race a little bit faster, nerves standing on end. Gripping your shotgun tightly, you took a breath and began creeping towards where you heard the sound. The rancid smell that laced the store began to get stronger and stronger, making your eyes water.

Suddenly, a low growl came from the next aisle and you slowly rounded the corner, discovering what made the noise. 

There was a walker hunched over what seemed to be the remains of its last meal. The stark white tile floor was covered in blood and all that seemed to be left was bits of human flesh and bone. You felt bile rise to your throat as the walker feasted, unaware of your arrival. 

Tiptoeing towards the biter, you softly rested your shotgun against one of the shelves and reached for the knife you kept strapped to your leg. Raising your weapon up, you came to stand behind the walker and with all the force you could muster, stabbed your knife into the top of its head. It stilled immediately and as you yanked your knife out, it fell to the floor. 

You released the breath you’d been holding and stared at the corpse. What the hell has this world come to? you thought solemnly. Grimacing, you wiped the blood from your knife onto your jeans and decided it was time to get back to work.

Just as you were about to turn around, you heard the distinct cock of a shot gun directly behind you — and before you could process what was happening, the barrel of the gun was pressed against the back of your head.

You froze — a pit forming in your stomach so intense you couldn’t feel anything else. For a moment, no one moved…

Until finally, an unfamiliar voice broke through the silence. “P-put your hands up,” it spoke, a tremble leaking through.

As slow as possible, you raised your hands above your head, swallowing the lump that formed in your throat. 

“T-turn around,” came the same shaky voice and you gradually turned to face the stranger.

What you did not expect was for the stranger holding you at gun point to be a young boy. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, eyes big and scared, face pale and thin. You could see the shot gun — your shot gun, the one you had set down just moments before — shaking ever so slightly in his tight grip.

“Let’s just take it easy, alright?” you said in a low voice, keeping your hands up.

“Drop the knife,” he retorted, motioning the gun towards the knife you still had clamped in your hand.

“Why don’t you lower the gun and we can talk —“

“I said drop the knife!” the boy shouted, taking a step towards you, hands still trembling. 

“Okay, okay…I hear you,” you nodded, releasing the knife, it clattering loudly to your feet. “Now please, kid, just lower the gun,” you urged.

“Give me your backpack,” he responded, eyes darting around frantically.

You nodded again and slowly began to shrug off your backpack. Something about the kid seemed off — it didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt you, he was just desperate. “Look, I know you’re scared. Lower the gun and let’s talk for a minute,” you offered, holding your bag in one hand, the other in front of you.

The boy took a step forward and snatched the bag from your hands, shrugging it onto his own shoulder. “I-I’m real sorry about this, lady,” he croaked. 

All of the sudden, he aimed the gun at your head and you saw his finger moved towards the trigger when —

“HEY!” a familiar voice boomed.

You saw movement from the corner of your eye and suddenly, there was Daryl. 

The kid, having been distracted by the sudden appearance, turned his head just as Daryl tackled him into the aisle’s metal shelving and the two tumbled to the ground. You saw the shotgun slip out of the boy’s hands and fall to the floor. Daryl jumped to his feet, grabbing the kid by the collar of his shirt and heaving him up. 

Ignoring the fact that you were almost just shot, you launched forward and grabbed your shotgun. 

Suddenly, a glint of silver caught your attention and you felt your stomach drop. During the scuffle, the kid had grabbed the knife you had dropped earlier and now held it just above Daryl’s head, ready to strike.

“STOP!” you screamed, cocking the shotgun and pressing it to the kid’s temple, everyone immediately stilling. “Drop it,” you growled, glaring at the kid who looked like he was about to pass out.

“I-I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to —“ the boy stuttered, eyes darting between you and Daryl.

“Put the knife down, kid,” you repeated, softening your voice a little. After a heavy moment of silence, the boy dropped the knife.

You let out a breath and swung your gaze to Daryl, who was watching at you, breathing heavy, grip still locked on the kid’s shirt. His eyes traveled over you frantically, worry written all over his face.

The kid began to squirm in Daryl’s grasp, drawing his attention back to boy. “An’ what the fuck ya think you’re doin’?” he snarled, shoving the boy back into the metal shelving. 

“W-wait, I-I’m —“

“You best be keepin’ your damn mouth shut,” he growled, just inches from the boy’s face.

“Wait Daryl, let him talk,” you finally spoke up, lowering your gun.

Daryl swung his gaze back to you, eyes ablaze. “This asshole jus’ held a gun ‘ta your head an’ you wanna let ‘im talk?”

“I-I-I I don’t…I’m…I didn’t —“ the kid began, before Daryl pushed him back farther into the shelf.

“Ya better start talkin’ ‘fore I kick your damn teeth out,” he hissed at the kid.

“I-I didn’t want to kill her,” the boy finally stammered. “I-I swear, I didn’t. I thought I had to. I didn’t —“

Before the kid could continue, Daryl reeled back and punched the kid square in the face, a crack sounding throughout the store. The boy howled in pain and dropped to his knees, cradling his face.

Blood streaming over his lips, the kid looked up at Daryl in panic. “I think you broke my fucking nose!”

“You’re lucky I don’t break your fuckin’ neck!” Daryl snarled back, before you jumped in front of him, putting both your hands on his chest to hold him back.

“Daryl, stop!” you pleaded, struggling to hold him back. You placed both hands on either side of his face so he would look at you. 

His fiery expression faltered as he stared at you, taking in every inch of your face as his breathing eventually slowed and his body sagged slightly.

“I thought I lost ya, Y/N,” he mumbled softly.

You smiled, gently running your thumb over his cheek. “I’m right here,” you whispered.

Daryl didn’t respond, just leaned slightly into your touch. 

A groan from behind pulled you back into the present moment and you looked down at the boy.

“What’s your name?” you asked softly, crouching down so you were eye level.

The kid looked up at Daryl with fearful eyes, before they landed on you. “Wyatt,” he finally whispered. 

“Do you have a group, Wyatt?” you continued.

Wyatt nodded quickly, watching Daryl pace back and forth like a caged animal behind you. “We were runnin’ out of food, water, medicine…they sent us here for supplies. I didn’t know —”

Us? The hell ya mean us?” Daryl snapped, coming to stand directly behind you. “Ya mean ‘ta tell me there’re more of ya pricks here?”

You watched the color drain from Wyatt’s face, his gaze traveling to where you had killed that walker earlier — the walker that had been feasting on its latest meal…

“Not anymore,” he squeaked out, staring at the mess of blood and gore.

You sighed heavily, rubbing the base of your neck. In any other scenario, this stranger would’ve been dead. If Daryl hadn’t killed him, you would have. In this world, it was kill or be killed — something you learned the hard way over time. 

But this kid was different. He was just a kid. He was just trying to keep his group safe and you could understand that — it was scary the lengths you yourself would go to protect those you loved. 

Turning your head, you stared up at Daryl. You would do just about anything for that man. Hell, you almost shot the kid trembling in front of you for him. 

Sometimes, you had to make tough choices to keep your people safe. And other times, a little humanity never hurt anyone. 

You reached for your backpack that had been thrown to the ground during the fight and unzipped it. Pulling out a couple of the cans you had just found, you set them down in front of Wyatt, who watched you with big eyes.

“The hell you doin’, Y/N?” Daryl questioned — not accusingly, more in confusion. 

You just gave him a reassuring smile, before adding your knife to the pile. “Listen to me very closely, Wyatt,” you said, grabbing the kids attention. “If this were to happen again, some people may not be as understanding as me and my friend. But I get it, okay? You were just doing what it takes to survive,” you paused, glancing up at Daryl meaningfully. “I would do the same thing for the people I care about.”

Daryl stared down at you, his expression a mixture of understanding and something else you couldn’t quite place. He cleared his throat and reached a hand down towards you. “C’mon, let’s get outta here.”

You took his hand and stood up, lingering just a second before pulling away to strap on your backpack and grab your shot gun. Wyatt stared up at you, mouth opening and closing like a fish.

You moved to stand beside Daryl who was stringing his crossbow over his shoulders. He stared at Wyatt, before crouching down a bit. “I want ya ‘ta count ‘ta one hundred, and then ya can get movin’, understand?”

Wyatt nodded quickly, wiping at the blood dripping down his chin. “T-thank you,” he finally spoke, gathering the items you had given him into his arms. 

You gave one last encouraging nod to the kid, before you and Daryl headed outside, welcoming the fresh air. The two of you hurried around the store, keeping your weapons up as you jogged to the car parked in the front. Finally reaching the vehicle, you tossed your bag and weapon into the back, hoisting yourself inside and slamming the door shut, Daryl sliding into the drivers seat.

As the adrenaline began to wash off you, a heaviness settled over your mind. The reality of what almost happened hit you like a truck and you felt a shiver run through you. You could feel Daryl watching you but kept your own gaze trained ahead, focusing on slowing down your breathing.

But no matter what you did, you couldn’t calm yourself — it had been too close. Way too close. And your heart wouldn’t stop beating a mile a minute in your chest. 

You let out a sigh, feeling the breath hitch in your throat. Suddenly, Daryl’s warm hand was squeezing your shoulder. “Hey,” he said softly, drawing your attention to him. “You’re okay, Y/N.”

You quickly shook your head. “No, no, i-it’s not that,” you admitted, swallowing the lump in your throat. “I-I thought…when I saw that knife above your head I just…I…” you broke off, the feeling of complete terror consuming you.

And then suddenly, you were being pulled into Daryl’s arms.

He wrapped both arms tight around your shaking frame, holding you against his chest. After the surprise of rare affection from him wore off, you found your arms snaking around his waist, holding him just as tightly. You immediately felt calm, his steady heart beat and warmth grounding you. It may have been your imagination, but you thought you felt him place a light kiss to the top of your head. 

“I thought I lost you,” you mumbled into his chest, thankful he couldn’t see the blush creeping over your cheeks or the warmth spreading through your heart.

“I’m right here,” he murmured softly, the words rumbling through his chest as he moved one hand to cradle the back of your head. “Imma always be right here."

Chapter Text

“Run! Don’t look back. Don’t stop for anything. Just run. Now, Y/N, go!”

The woods were deathly silent, the only sound coming from heaving lungs and feet crashing through leaves and thickets.

“No, Dad! I’m not leaving you!”

Branches tore at clothing and skin, tearing holes and slicing exposed arms and legs.

"I’ll be right behind you, sweetheart. I promise!”

No one had heard them coming. One minute you were helping set up camp before nightfall and the next, a herd of biters ambushed your group. 

You felt your stomach twist as you remembered your fathers’ eyes — warm like honey, wide eyed and terrified as he begged you to run.

Your father pulled you in for a hug — swift but firm, like he knew deep down it would be the last time he’d hold you — before giving you a small push as a group of biters closed in on him. Turning on your heels, you took off ahead, hearing grunts as flesh hit flesh — no doubt your father fighting for his life. 

Then suddenly, a gut wrenching scream filled the air that stopped you dead in your tracks. “Don’t…don’t look back,” you whispered, repeating your fathers’ order through gritted teeth. 

But you couldn’t help yourself.

You spared one last glance over your shoulder just in time to see a biter rip the exposed flesh from your fathers’ neck.

A strangled noise escaped your mouth as you watched the blood pour from his throat, soaking the front of his stained white t shirt. His eyes met yours, still warm like honey, but bloodshot and filled with unshed tears, as he gargled one last word. “Run.“

And so you did.

You didn’t know how long you’d been running — you were sure you had lost the herd behind you a while back. But your body felt as though it was on autopilot — falling into a steady rhythm as you ducked around fallen branches and roots.

You wiped at your tear stained cheeks, your breaths coming out in huffs as you tried to forget how you just lost the last person you had left on Earth…about the guilt that coiled around your body like rope for listening to your dad and running ahead…about how you had no idea what the hell you were supposed to do now.

You felt your chest tighten, as if a hand had reached inside your body and grabbed your heart, squeezing it in its grasp. 

Distracted by the sudden pressure, you didn’t notice the tree branch hanging too low in front of you. The next thing you knew, you were sprawled flat on your back, wind knocked out of you, staring up at the swinging branch you collided with.

You laid completely still, save for your heaving chest as you tried to slow your breathing. Sweat dripped down the base of your neck and sides of your face, collecting into a pool around you.

With a groan, you pulled yourself up into a sitting position. You felt wetness drip down the side of your face and wiped at it with your fingertips. When you pulled your hand back, it was covered in blood. “Shit,” you grimaced. 

Ignoring the turmoil inside, your survival instincts kicked in. You were vulnerable out in the open like this — you needed to find shelter and now. Wiping the blood from your hands, you went to stand up but a jolt of pain shot through your left ankle, sending you crashing back to the ground. 

You hissed in agony and grabbed your foot, tears springing to your eyes from the strain. Taking a breath, you stretched your leg out in front of you to survey the damage. Relief washed over you when you realized you could roll your ankle around without too much strain, meaning it hadn’t been broken. But you grimaced at how swollen it already was.

Swallowing the pain, you focused back on the task at hand. You needed to get somewhere safe — that was priority number one. You could deal with everything else later. 

Still, a small voice kept making itself known in the back of your head —

You’re all alone. 

All. Alone.

You could’ve saved daddy. 

Coward.

Weak.

All.

Alone. 

Fighting back the tears that sprang to your eyes, you gripped your chest — feeling your heart rate starting to speed up…feeling your breath start to accelerate…

You frantically glanced around, seeing nothing but trees surrounding you. No matter which direction you faced, everything looked exactly the same. You had no idea where you were, which direction to go, which direction you came from. It was almost dark and you had no idea how to get somewhere safe or if there even was someplace safe. 

A chill set over your bones at the thought of being alone in the woods at night — nothing good ever happened at night.

Before even more panic could set it, a rustle came from behind you, drawing your attention away. You flipped over onto your knees, squinting towards the mass of trees you heard the noise come from. But dusk was making it difficult to see more than a couple feet in front of you. 

All of the sudden, a group of walkers came into view, weaving between the trees, limping and groaning directly towards you. 

Your stomach dropped as you began to crawl backwards, counting at least four biters coming your way — you had gone up against more than that before, but you didn’t have any back up and on top of that, you were injured.

You stumbled to your feet, hissing from the pain shooting through your ankle, and realized in horror that you wouldn’t be able to outrun the dead on a twisted ankle.

“Damn it,” you growled as the dead limped faster in your direction, arms outstretched, teeth bared.

Heart racing, you fumbled for the knife you kept strapped to your leg. It was the only weapon you had — everything else had been left behind back at the camp. You yanked it out of its sheath just as one of the walkers lunged at you. 

Gasping, you braced your hands against the walkers shoulders, its jaws snapping inches from your face. You grunted, struggling under its weight — but with one big shove, you were able to push the biter onto its back, your body toppling on top of it. Just before its teeth could sink into your neck, you pulled your arm back and sunk your knife deep into the walkers temple, its grip on you going slack. 

Wrenching your knife out of the walkers head, you hopped to your feet, keeping the pressure off your bad foot as the next walker sprang at you. 

You dodged its attack, pushing it away from you. While the biter fumbled for its balance, you snuck up behind and plunged your knife into the back of its head, blood splattered over your face as you yanked your knife.

Heart pounding, you spun around and came face to face with the most grotesque looking walker you had seen — half of its face had rotted off, exposing tendons and bone. One eye was dangling from its socket, bouncing against its cheek with each movement. The skin that was left on its body was sickly green, sagging into hanging clumps. 

Fighting back the bile that rose to your throat, you ducked under the walkers swinging arms before giving it a shove backwards. The biter growled in protest, taking a minute to regain its balance as you slowly limped backwards, keeping your knife up and ready in front of you.

Suddenly, a snarl came from behind, turning your attention to the fourth walker who had snuck up on you. Before you could make a move, the biter attacked — launching itself right at you and effectively knocking you flat on your back. As your head slammed into the ground, you felt your knife slip from your grasp. 

You were paralyzed for a moment, black spots clouding your vision. The only thing you were aware of was this heaviness that suddenly settled over your body. You lifted your head an inch off the ground and came practically nose to nose with the walker that took you down. 

A scream escaped your lips before you could stop it as you grabbed a handful of the walkers hair and yanked it backwards. The biter growled and snapped its jaws, just barely missing your face. You grunted under the weight of the walker and with your free hand, frantically felt around for your knife.

Instead, your hand clamped around what felt like a large rock. Adrenaline kicking into high gear, you picked it up and slammed it into the side of the walkers head. The walker rolled onto its back next to you and you quickly straddled it, raising the rock over your head and slamming it into the biters face until it stopped moving. 

You saw movement from the corner of your eye and went to grab the rock now embedded in the walkers face, but it was covered with blood and slipped right through your fingers. 

With a frustrated yell, you jumped to your feet just as the walker with the hanging eye grabbed you, the weight of its body propelling you backwards until your back connected with a tree trunk. Groaning, you braced one forearm against its chest, the other against its neck, and felt the last remaining bit of strength you had draining from your body. 

The walker snarled, snapping its blood stained teeth just inches from you. Your arms began quivering as you attempted to squirm out of the biters grasp, but your back was pressed up against the tree and there was no where for you to go.

A sob rose to your throat as you thought of your father — how he had just sacrificed his life so you could live yours — and how that sacrifice would mean nothing now. You were in a losing battle and by the looks of it, wouldn’t last much longer.

A sort of calm settled over your bones and you wondered if this is what it felt like to die — to feel at peace in the face of death. You took a deep breath and closed your eyes, preparing yourself for the end…

But just as your arms were about to give out, you felt the biter you were fending off go completely still. 

Your eyes shot open in confusion — its mouth was unhinged as if in mid bite, hands outstretched as if they were seconds from grabbing you, its one eye wide open.

Everything looked exactly how it did before you closed your eyes. 

Except one thing.

There was an arrow sticking through the side of its head.

The walkers legs gave out and it crumpled to the ground. You were frozen in place, body shaking from what almost happened as you stared at the unmoving walker. 

“Ya bit?” a new voice rang out, making your head snap up. 

Your eyes landed on a man you had never seen before — he had cropped, brown hair and wore torn clothing. It looked like the sleeves of his plaid shirt had been ripped off, exposing toned, dirty arms. Over his shirt he wore a black leather vest. But what drew your full attention was the crossbow he held in his grasp aimed at your head. 

“W-what?” you finally sputtered, heart beating a mile a minute. 

Bit,” the man growled, seeming to lose his patience. “Did ya get bit?” 

For the first time, you took a look at yourself. You could understand why he would be uneasy — most of your body was coated in blood, your clothing was all ripped up, and scratches covered most of your exposed skin. 

“I ain’t got all day, woman,” the stranger barked out annoyed, taking a few measured steps forward, crossbow still pointed at you.

You gulped, slowly raising both of your hands in surrender. “I-I don’t think so,” you whispered. Your eyes flickered from the weapon up to the man, meeting his penetrating gaze. He seemed to give you a thorough once over — not in a way that made you uneasy — more so that he was being extra cautious.

When it seemed like he was satisfied you weren’t an immediate threat, he very slowly lowered his crossbow, keeping his eyes on you the whole time. A heavy silence passed between the two of you before the man spoke up. “The hell ya doin’ all the way out here?”

“My camp…” you trailed off, lowering your hands. “My camp was overrun.”

The man nodded, not seeming to need further explanation. “An’ what ‘bout your people?”

You lowered your eyes, feeling a tremor rock through you. You couldn’t think about how much you lost…not right now. Right now you needed to survive. 

When you looked back up at the man, his eyes had softened considerably. “I didn’t mean ‘ta—“

“Thank you,” you interrupted, nodding towards the walker the man had taken down. “You saved my life.”

It might’ve been the trick of the light but you could’ve sworn you saw the man flush red. Regardless, he just grunted, approaching the walker. “Was nothin’,” he said offhandedly, bending down and yanking the arrow out of the walkers head.

“It wasn’t nothing,” you retorted, catching the man’s gaze as he straightened up. “You didn’t have to help me. Thank you,” you said slowly, meaningfully. 

The man just nodded once, signaling the end of the conversation, as he slipped the arrow into the sack he had strapped around his shoulders. You suddenly felt very exposed — you needed to find you knife. 

Body aching, you limped over to where you had dropped the knife and gently lowered yourself to your hands and knees. You began to feel around for the weapon you lost, pushing piles of leaves around, trying to uncover it. 

Every move you made felt like a thousand needles were piercing your skin — your head was pounding, your ankle was throbbing, and you were almost certain you had a concussion.

You felt eyes on you and flashed a look at the man who was watching you with furrowed brows. He seemed to have something on his mind but remained silent. Knowing you’d feel much better when you had something to protect yourself with, you continued to search the forrest floor.

Seconds later, you heard the rustling of footsteps approach you — the man was now beside you, standing over the walker you had killed with the rock. Then, almost effortlessly, he grabbed the biter by the collar of its shirt and tossed it a couple feet to the side. You watched perplexed, as the man crouched down and picked up something. 

When a glint of silver caught your attention, you realized he had grabbed your knife — so not only was this guy a skilled archer, he was apparently a mind reader as well.

His eyes flickered up to yours as if he heard your thoughts and held your gaze, straightening to his full height. You slowly stood up, ignoring the spasm of pain shooting through your ankle, and glanced at the weapon.

A part of you wondered why you weren’t as scared as you should be — you were defenseless, standing in front of stranger who held a knife. But you weren’t scared — hell, you weren’t even slightly concerned

And that is what scared you.

The man suddenly flipped the knife in his hand, grabbing the blade and extending the hilt towards you.

You tentatively reached for it. “Thank you,” you mumbled yet again as you slipped the weapon back into the sheath wrapped around your thigh. “I’m, uh, I’m Y/N, by the way,” you continued, feeling a little self conscious, your people skills feeling incredibly rusty.

The man paused, seeming a little self conscious himself. “Daryl,” he finally grumbled with a nod.

“So,” you started a bit awkwardly, “what brought you all the way out here?”

Daryl’s features darkened ever so slightly. “Lookin’ for someone,” he said lowly, worry flashing over his face before quickly disappearing. “A lil girl…she got, uh, blonde hair. Real skinny. ‘Bout yeigh high,” he said, holding his hand up near his chest. “Ya seen anyone out here?”

You shook your head slowly. “No…no, sorry. You’re the first person I’ve seen.”

“Damn it,” Daryl rumbled, scanning the surrounding area. “I gotta keep lookin’. She’s jus’ a kid an’ all…” he trailed off, before locking eyes with you once again. “Hey, ya gonna be okay?”

You paused, caught off guard, unsure why this stranger was worried about your well being. “Yeah…yeah, I’ll be fine,” you finally said, clearly convincing neither you or Daryl.

He seemed to have an internal struggle, shuffling back and forth on his feet, looking torn. Finally seeming to have made a decision to whatever conflict was going on inside him, he sighed. “Listen, if ya want, I can bring ya back ‘ta — ”

Whatever he was about to say was cut off by the tell tale groan of a walker coming your way. The two of you immediately switched into high alert, Daryl raising his crossbow and you grabbing your knife. You felt your breathing start to pick up as you stared towards where the sound came from. The tension rolling off Daryl was almost palpable as he took few steps forward, shooting you a quick look over his shoulder.

A walker suddenly came into view — but just as quickly as it appeared, it was taken down — one of Daryl’s arrows pierced through its skull, a perfect headshot.

A sigh of relief left your body as Daryl walked over to the biter. You stared at his back as he went, the two angel wings sewn into the back of his vest drawing your attention. 

You watched as he effortlessly yanked the arrow out of the walkers head and reloaded it into his bow. “You’re pretty good with that thing,” you commented, motioning to the crossbow.

He glanced down at the weapon, turning it in his hands as if to get a good look at it. “It ain’t rocket science or nothin’,” he brushed off. “Ya got anythin’ else on ya ‘sides that knife?”

You shook your head. “We didn’t have time to grab anything.”

“We?” Daryl retorted, quirking a brow.

You felt your body go numb. For a minute, you’d almost forgotten you just lost your dad. A pit formed in your stomach and you did everything you could to hold back the grief that was threatening to crash over you. 

You tried not to think of your dad — how scared he looked, how you shouldn’t have left him, how brightly his blood had contrasted over his white shirt.

And then you felt two hands grab your shoulders and all of the sudden, you were face to face with Daryl. 

He was crouched down a little so the two of you were eye level and for the first time, you realized how deep his blue eyes were. “Ya good? Ya looked like ya were ‘bout ‘ta pass out or somethin’,” he rumbled, face etched with concern.

As you opened your mouth to respond, a loud growl sounded throughout the night, drawing both of your attentions to the trees behind you. You barely had time to react before Daryl was grabbing your arm and pulling you behind him, positioning himself in front of you, crossbow up and aimed once again.

You felt your heart rate speed up, grasping your knife a little harder than necessary. “How many?” you whispered, peeking over his shoulder.

“Don’t know…” he trailed off, chest heaving. “Can ya run?”

You looked down at your foot, wincing as you rolled the ankle you twisted earlier. “Not fast enough,” you murmured back. Daryl muttered something that sounded like a curse under his breath, but you couldn’t hear him over the blood pounding in your ears.

The suspense didn’t last long. Seconds later, a group of walkers emerged from the shadows. You took a step out from behind Daryl to stand beside him and counted five of them. He glanced down at you, his expression unreadable. 

You stared back up at him, ignoring the way your stomach flipped. “I’m with you,” you said resolutely, raising your knife.

Daryl watched you for a moment more, before giving a nod. He waited until one of the walkers was a couple feet away before firing at it, taking it down with an arrow to its head.

You limped a couple feet to the side, waving your arms around. “Hey! Over here!” you shouted, catching the attention of another walker. It set its sights on you and started groaning your way, stumbling over its own feet. You peeked around it and saw Daryl take down another one with his hunting knife.

A growl brought you back to the task at hand and you waited for the snapping walker to get closer. It reached for you but you ducked under its swinging arms and grabbed it by the hair, yanking its head back and sinking your knife deep into its forehead. The walker collapsed into a heap at your feet as you yanked your knife back out.

You spun around and saw Daryl hunched over, in the middle of reloading his crossbow, keeping his eyes on the walker nearing him. But what he didn’t see was the fifth walker approaching him from behind. 

You felt your heart lurch and you limped as fast as you could towards the man you had just met. He shot at the walker in front of him just as the one behind him pounced.

But you got to him first. 

You threw yourself at the walker who had nearly taken a bite out Daryl’s shoulder, knocking yourself and the biter onto the forrest floor. You cried out as you landed hard on your already bruised body — but a growl put you back on high alert. 

The walker you took down now laid on its back, reaching for you with its ragged hand. But before it could grab you, you stabbed your knife through its arm, sinking the blade deep into the dirt below.

Now that one arm was securely pinned down, you rolled over the walker so you were straddling it. You spotted a fallen branch about a foot long and grabbed it, holding it high over your head, ready to strike…

And then suddenly, the walker beneath you was no longer just any walker.

Now it wore a stained white t shirt…now it’s throat was ripped open…now it’s warm like honey eyes, bloodshot and filled with unshed tears bored into yours. 

“Dad…” you choked out, the noise sounding strangled in your throat as the stick slipped from your hand. 

You were paralyzed — you couldn’t move, you couldn’t breathe. All you could do was stare. Guilt snaked its way into your thoughts — you should be dead right now, you should be the monster, not him. 

Then you blinked and suddenly your dad was gone. It was just another walker beneath you, not the figment you just imagined. And before you could react, the biter retched its pinned arm free and grabbed you by the hair, bringing your face closer and closer to its snapping jaws.

Just when the walker was close enough where you could feel its breath on your neck, you saw a flash of silver and the walker was dead — your knife sticking in its temple. And then a pair of strong arms were wrapping around your waist and hoisting you off the dead biter. 

You thought you heard someone calling your name, but everything sounded fuzzy — you couldn’t hear past the pounding in your ears. You felt two warm hands grab either side of your face and you realized you were almost nose to nose with Daryl, who had this frantic look on his face but you didn’t know why.

He was mouthing something — no, he was saying something — but you couldn’t understand him. All you could focus on was how fast your heart was racing, how numb your body felt, how you couldn’t catch your breath.

All of the sudden, Daryl had a hand cupped under your chin and was tilting your head up so you were forced to look at him — his touch grounding you. 

You locked eyes, focusing on how blue his eyes were, trying distract yourself from the chaos in your mind — and then you stared at his lips, trying to push past the fogginess so you could understand what he was trying to say.

“Hey, hey…look at me, Y/N, jus’ keep lookin’ at me,” he was saying. 

You felt your legs starting to buckle under you, but just before they could give out, Daryl wrapped an arm around your waist and half dragged, half carried you away from the corpses and sat you down against a tree trunk. 

Tremors rocked your body as you leaned against the trunk, feeling the full effect of the panic attack starting to consume you.

But then Daryl appeared, crouching down right in front of you, watching you with worried eyes and you focused on him instead. “Jus’ breathe, Y/N,” he spoke quietly. You did as he said, squeezing your eyes shut and taking a deep breath, releasing the air when your lungs started to burn. 

You don’t know how long you sat there, eyes closed, focusing on your breathing. When the tightness in your chest finally went away, you slowly opened your eyes. Daryl was still crouched in front of you, never having moved from his spot — and you realized how much comfort his presence brought you.

You let out a shaky breath, leaning your head back. “I’m sorry,” you whispered, feeling a mix of embarrassment and shame. 

“Nah, don’t be,” Daryl retorted, shaking his head. “Nothin’ ‘ta be sorry for.”

You turned your head away from him, feeling tears spring to your eyes. You hated feeling out of control. You hated feeling weak. “I promise I’m not always this much of a basket case,” you laughed humorlessly. 

Daryl just shrugged his shoulders, completely indifferent. “Basket case or not, ya saved my life.”

“Was nothin’,” you brushed off, calling back his own response from earlier. He just scoffed, the corner of his mouth quirking up before his features settled back to their normal stoic place. You took a deep breath and cleared your throat. “You, uh…you should probably get back to your search. That little girl’s still out here somewhere.”

“I ain’t gonna leave ya alone out here,” Daryl immediately shot back. “We got a camp. A farm. Me an’ my people. Good people,” he added for emphasis before doubt flashed through his eyes. “I mean, if ya want. Ya don’t have ‘ta —”

“No, no,” you jumped in. “No, I’d like that.”

Daryl just nodded before pushing off his feet and walking back to where the two of you had taken down the walkers. “We oughta get outta here ‘fore any more of these ugly pricks show up,” he grumbled, grabbing his crossbow and slinging it across his back. He then went over to the walker you had imagined was your dad and yanked your knife out of its skull. 

With a heave, you pulled yourself up to a standing position, leaning against the tree. You bit back the pain shooting through your body, ignoring how the world spun around you. 

Daryl made his way back to you, surveying the area for any signs of danger. “Here,” he said, handing your knife back to you.

“Thank you,” you sighed, tucking it back into its sheath. “Lead the way,” you offered with a wave of the hand, feeling a little nervous about what the future held for you, this strange man, and his group.

As soon as you took one step, agony shot through your ankle and you hissed in pain. You barely saw Daryl move, but one moment he was behind you and the next, he had slipped an arm around your waist and holding you up. 

You stopped and glanced up at him, locking eyes once again. Neither of you spoke, both just taking the other in. You could’ve sworn you saw red flush over Daryl’s face, but in the next moment, it was gone and the two of you were moving forward. When you felt a spasm of pain shoot up your leg, you flinched, leaning heavily into Daryl. “You’re okay, I got ya,” he murmured, his deep voice rumbling through his chest. “I got ya.”

A small smile came across your lips as you held onto Daryl a little bit tighter. “I know.”

Chapter Text

“Close your eyes!”

“Naw.”

“Come on, Daryl!”

“Why ya lookin’ a’ me like that?”

“Just close your eyes, damn it.” 

“Stubborn ass woman ya are, ya know that?”

You rolled you eyes upwards, praying for patience as you kneeled next to Daryl on the bed, practically bouncing up and down. “Please, just close your eyes,” you sighed, giving him your best puppy dog eyes. 

The archer grunted, shaking his head a bit. But he couldn’t hide the amusement in his eyes as he watched you. 

It was rare to see you this excited about anything — this happy. He didn’t want to close his eyes. He liked seeing you like this. 

“Whatcha got back there?” he grumbled curiously, trying to peek around you and get a glimpse of what you held behind your back. 

“You’ll never find out unless you close your eyes,” you mused, a cheeky grin spreading over your face.

Now it was Daryl’s turn to roll his eyes, but you knew he was intrigued. You’d gotten to know the archer very well over the past two years — you’d come to realize he wasn’t as difficult to read as he appeared to be. 

Ever since you joined the group back at the prison, you had a special connection with Daryl. 

Maybe it was because you both had it rough growing up or maybe it was because he was the one who saved you that night in the woods two years ago. 

Either way, you’d had an undeniable bond from the moment you met him. You couldn’t remember when things started to change — when the feeling of friendship began to progress into a deeper kind of relationship. 

You fought against the feelings, positive they were simply one sided. But you’d been more than happy to find out it was mutual. 

Both you and Daryl struggled at first getting used to being in a romantic relationship — the last relationship you’d been in had ended a couple months before the world went to shit. And you were pretty sure Daryl had never been in a serious relationship. 

But with time and a lot of work on both sides, you and Daryl found yourselves in a comfortable, loving relationship. 

The two of you had your ups and downs — Daryl struggled with communication and you had a tough time opening up — but you always found your way back to each other.

Finding Alexandria had been good for you two — had been good for the entire group. 

The group had been searching for a safe haven for what felt like forever and finally, you’d found somewhere you could hopefully one day call home. 

“If I close my eyes, will ya stop buggin’ me?” Daryl retorted, pulling himself up into a sitting position, yanking the covers up to his waist. 

You hummed thoughtfully. “Probably not,” you replied sweetly.

“Smartass,” he rumbled, nudging you gently.

“Let’s go, Dixon. I don’t have all day,” you shot back, scooting closer to him on the bed, giving him an encouraging nod.

Daryl cleared his throat and sighed heavily, closing one eye, keeping the other trained on you. You glared at him until he scoffed and shut his other eye. 

When you were sure he wasn’t peeking, you pulled the gift out from behind your back and plopped it onto his lap.

His eyes shot open and landed on the object, confusion spreading over his face. “The hell is this?”

You couldn’t help but laugh as you folded you legs under you and sat down. “It’s a helmet! For your bike.”

Daryl wrinkled his nose, picking up the helmet and turning it in his hands. It was jet black, had a clear plate that covered the face, and was a little worse for wear — but most importantly, it was useable. “I ain’t wearin’ a damn helmet.”

“Do you know how dangerous motorcycles are? What if you crash? You need a helmet.”

“I ain’t gonna crash,” he rumbled in response, quirking a brow at you.

“Will you please just try it on?” you pleaded, feeling as though you were talking to a child.

Daryl’s face scrunched up, shrugging his shoulders. “I don’t wanna mess up my hair,” he shot back, the corner of his mouth quirked up in amusement.

“You haven’t washed your hair in weeks, Daryl!” you pointed out incredulously, unable to keep your face serious as a laugh escaped your lips.

A rare smile spread across the archers face before he turned his gaze downwards, his long mop of hair effectively covering it. 

You sighed, running a hand through your own hair as your laughter died down. “I just want you to be safe.”

Daryl glanced up at you, holding your gaze for a moment before nodding once. “Whatcha get me this for anyways?”

You shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t know. Maybe to make up for all your birthday’s I missed?” you offered with a small smile.

Daryl grunted softly, running his fingers gently over the top of the helmet. “I ain’t never got a birthday present ‘fore,” he said so softly you almost didn’t hear it. 

You felt your heart break as you stared at the man sitting in front of you. Daryl was the best thing in your life and it killed you whenever you heard little details of his past like this. 

You turned your head slightly, swallowing the lump that grew in your throat. 

He deserved a better life than the one he was given — he deserved to be loved and cherished and cared for. 

And it made a red hot anger snake its way through your veins when you realized that Daryl hadn’t been given any of that.

You felt eyes on you and glanced back at the archer, who was watching your expression with furrowed brows, his deep blue eyes boring into yours. You sighed softly. “Daryl…”

“It’s alright, Y/N,” he interrupted, shaking his head. “An’ thanks for this,” he added, patting the top of the helmet.

A sad smile came across your face and you laughed once, rolling your eyes a bit. “Okay, fine, you don’t have to wear it,” you finally relented, slinking off the bed and padding around to the other side so you were standing over Daryl. “But I think it’d look real good on you,” you added with a wink, before leaning down and placing a light kiss on his cheek.

When you pulled back, you saw red flush over the archers cheeks and felt a warmth spread throughout you.  “Is, uh, is Rick still wantin’ ta’ check out that market today?” Daryl spoke quickly, clearing his throat.

“I think so,” you nodded, gently smoothing back the hair that covered Daryl’s face. “He said to head over to the front gate. So I’ll meet you outside, okay?”

Daryl just nodded, never taking his eyes off you. You made the move to leave, but felt him grab your hand and pull you back. “Wha —”

Whatever you were about to say was cut off by Daryl pulling you to his chest and pressing his lips gently against yours, placing a hand around the side of your neck. 

Your stomach did a flip, as it always did when he touched you, and you smiled around the kiss. 

He pulled away and you pouted your lips, making a noise in protest which elicited a small laugh from the archer — one that you wished you’d hear more often.

“I’ll meet ya outside,” he finally spoke as you straightened back up, a warmth in his eyes as he looked up at you.

“Such a tease, Daryl Dixon,” you sighed dramatically, amusement etching your features. 

Daryl just scoffed, shaking his head, clearly pleased with himself as he watched you leave. 

You jogged down the stairs of the house you and Daryl shared, feeling on cloud nine. Times like these were rare and fleeting in this new damned world and you wanted to hold onto these moments as long as possible. 

Deciding to get your pack ready for the run into town, you headed to the back closet where you and Daryl kept most of your gear. 

You slipped a backpack over a shoulder and began loading it with items you’d need for the day — ammo, two bottles of water, a couple protein bars. You slid your hunting knife into the sheath you kept strapped around your leg and tucked your gun into the holster around your waist. 

You heard Daryl’s footsteps as he came down the stairs and watched his retreating form as he headed outside, crossbow slung across his back. 

A smile spread across your lips and you couldn’t remember the last time you felt this good — this happy.

You heard Daryl’s motorcycle roar to life and took that as your cue to leave. 

Zipping up your backpack, you shut the closet door and headed back to the front of the house. You slipped out the front door, slamming it shut behind you and jogged down the porch stairs to where Daryl had parked his bike.

You stopped dead in your tracks when you saw the archer — there he was, straddling his motorcycle, wearing the helmet you’d just given him. 

A huge grin plastered itself on your face as you took slow, measured steps towards Daryl. “I told you it’d look good,” you managed to squeak out, taken aback by just how handsome this man was.

Daryl rolled his eyes a bit, grunting once, but you could see he was pleased. You laughed aloud as you slipped on the bike behind him. He looked over his shoulder at you, eyebrows furrowed. 

“What?” you questioned, pushing the hair back from your face, feeling self-conscious. 

Before you could say anything else, Daryl was slipping the helmet off his head and sliding it over yours. The helmet fit snug and you looked up at him in confusion. 

“I jus’ want ya ta’ be safe,” he grumbled, recalling what you said earlier as he adjusted the helmet on you. “It looks better on ya anyways,” he finished, giving you a wink as he turned back around and revved the engine.

You felt your heart skip a beat, a bit taken back at the gesture but filled with an overwhelming amount of love for this man in front of you. 

The bike lurched forward and you quickly wrapped your arms around his waist, holding on tight as you road to the front gate to meet up with the rest of the group.

You pressed the side of your head against his back and took a deep breath, filling your lungs with crisp air.

This world you lived in was unpredictable — it was sorrowful and dangerous and downright scary. You never knew what was around the corner, never knew when you’d take your last breath.

But in this moment, holding onto the man you loved, feeling safe and loved in his presence, the world just didn’t seem so damned anymore.

Chapter Text

It should’ve been an easy run.

You’d been on a hunt with Daryl — scouring the woods for any animal, big or small, you could bring back to the prison. 

The group had been running low on supplies for a while now, but with the threat of the Governor hanging over your heads, most had been wary to leave the prison.

But desperate times called for desperate measures. 

Carol had done inventory of the food supplies the night before and the expression on her face said it all. 

Daryl immediately volunteered to go on a supply run — he was the best tracker in the group and was confident he would not come home empty handed. You offered your services right after because there was no way in hell you were letting him go out there on his own.

You and Daryl had always made a good team — each making up for what the other lacked. Daryl could be a hot head, you calmed him down. You could be naive, he kept you sharp. 

There had always been this sense of ease and comfortability that flowed between you two, something you hadn’t experienced even before the end of the world.

You knew Daryl cared about you — he may not be a man of many words, but he didn’t need to say anything. You just knew — by the way he looked at you, by the way he softened up around you, by the way he became fiercely protective if he felt you were in danger.

And the feelings were reciprocated. Of course you cared about every single person in your group — no, in your family — but it was different with the archer. It was deeper.

So the thought of him going out on a run by himself had you volunteering yourself before you could think twice. 

As soon as the words left your lips, you caught Daryl’s eyes and saw a flash of worry pass through them, before he reluctantly nodded once. He trusted you to have his back out there but you knew it made him uneasy when you left the prison walls. 

You gave him a reassuring smile, knowing you’d be just as safe under his watchful eye.

The two of you had decided to try your luck at a small mini mart a couple miles down the road, and if that place had been cleared out, you’d settle for a good old fashioned hunt.

Not surprisingly, the mini mart had been completely ransacked. 

The windows and doors were busted in, the shelves were bare, and even the storage room in the back was cleared out. You’d managed to snag a can of peaches that had rolled under one of the shelves, but other than that, the mini mart was a bust.

You and Daryl had been combing through the forrest for about an hour, no sign of anything alive or dead to be found. 

A shiver passed through you as you walked— the sun was beginning to set and it was getting into the colder months now. 

You glanced up at Daryl who was walking beside you, scanning the forrest, crossbow in hand.

“We should probably head back,” you whispered, breaking the prolonged silence.

Daryl didn’t respond, didn’t acknowledge your words — just kept his determined pace. 

You sighed softly, understanding his reluctance to head back home. “We can try again tomorrow.”

Still nothing.

You took a breath. “Daryl —”

“I ain’t goin’ back ‘til we get somethin’,” he interrupted gruffly. You could see the tension in his shoulders, the stress in the lines on his face. 

“It’ll be dark soon and it’s not safe out here. We can try again tomorrow,” you argued gently.

Daryl slowed to a stop, lowering his crossbow. He stared off into the woods, a faraway look in his eyes. “I ain’t ‘bout ‘ta let our people go hungry, Y/N. I ain’t gonna let that happen.”

You opened your mouth to respond, but a twig snapping in the distance sent the two of you into high alert. 

The archer aimed his crossbow in the direction of the sound, you following suit with your gun. Holding your breath, you scanned the forrest, searching for what made the noise.

Daryl seemed to have caught wind of something, because all of the sudden, he was on the move, motioning for you to follow quietly. You kept your gun raised, glancing behind you every so often to make sure nothing was sneaking up on you. 

The wind was starting to pick up, biting at your exposed skin as you ran. An intensely putrid smell suddenly wafted through the air — like rotting meat that’d been sitting out in the sun for too long.

Opting to breathe through your mouth instead of your nose, you continued forward, staying right on the archers heels. 

You glanced over your shoulder, but when you turned back around, you nearly ran smack into Daryl who had suddenly halted. He had one hand raised up, the signal for you to be still, and every muscle in your body froze.

He had his crossbow up and pointed off to the right. You glanced at him — his eyes narrowed, breathing steady. Following his gaze, you suddenly found yourself staring at a sight that sent your heart racing.

It was a buck.

It stood tall and mighty, with intricate antlers that twisted from its head and you couldn’t believe the sight. You’d never seen a deer so big in your life — yet there it was, standing in front of you, staring right back.

A small part of you felt bad that this animal had no idea there was a crossbow pointed at it, with the intent to kill. But a bigger part of you couldn’t wait to see the look on everyones faces when you and Daryl brought home food for a week.

You watched Daryl’s finger glide over the trigger, heard him let out a shaky breath, felt the waves of tension rolling off him, smelt the rotting scent from earlier get stronger and stronger and stronger and then…

It should’ve been an easy run. 

All of the sudden, a twig snapped behind you, the deer bolted away, Daryl’s arrow pierced the tree the animal had previously stood in front of, and you felt a hand wrap itself in your hair. 

Before you could even turn around, Daryl had unsheathed his knife and stabbed the walker in the head who grabbed you. You pulled yourself out of its grasp as it collapsed to the floor and took a few steps back. 

“Shit, I didn’t even hear it,” you breathed heavily, rubbing the back of your head subconsciously. 

“C’mere,” Daryl rumbled, worry etching his face as he motioned for you to turn. You shot him a confused look before he grabbed your shoulder and spun you around, so your back was to him. 

Suddenly, he was moving your hair to the side so it fell over your shoulder. “What’re you doing?” you asked softly.

“Jus’ makin’ sure it didn’t scratch ya,” he murmured, gently feeling around where the walker gripped you. You sighed, unable to stop your eyes from closing — you missed human contact. 

And for someone as rough as he was, he had a soft touch.

When he was satisfied you were unharmed, he pulled away and you couldn’t help but feel the ache for more. You heaved and turned around to face him, but he was looking off behind you. 

You knew where his thoughts were. “You think you can track it?” you questioned, hoping the deer hadn’t gotten far.

Daryl grunted, shaking his head a little. “Don’t matter. It’s gonna be dark an’ we gotta get back.”

“Maybe you can find a trail — who knows when we’ll find a buck like that again.”

“Ain’t worth it.”

“Daryl —”

“I said it ain’t worth it, Y/N,” he shot back, an edge to his words. “Imma take ya back ta’ the prison an’ I’ll try an’ find somethin’ tomorrow.”

You nodded. “Alright, I’ll come with.”

“Nah, it’s best ya be stayin’ with the others.”

Confusion spread over your face. “There’s no way in hell I’m letting you go out here by yourself,” you argued resolutely, crossing your arms over your chest. 

“Ya ain’t lettin me?” Daryl growled in return, narrowing his eyes at you. “Ya ain’t my damn babysitter, sunshine. I don’t need ya tellin’ me what ta’ do now.”

“Are you kidding me? I’m not telling you what to do, Dixon. You’re being a jackass.”

“Ya, well this jackass jus’ saved your damn life!”

“Why are you being like this?” you retorted, unsure where the hostility came from. “I’m just saying you shouldn’t do this alone — I can help you.”

Daryl exhaled heavily and you saw a little bit of the fight leave him. “Ya almost got bit, Y/N. I can’t have ya out here,” he replied, his voice a little softer. 

“Well, that’s not really up to you, now is it?” you shot back, standing your ground.

Daryl quirked a brow, almost incredulously, before taking a step towards you. “Ya ain’t comin’ out here tomorrow.”

“Try to stop me,” you shot back, feeling your confidence waver as Daryl stepped closer until the two of you were almost nose to nose.

A tense silence settled over the woods as Daryl stared down at you — his face angry, but a softness in his eyes, a look you couldn’t quite place. 

“I need ya ta’ be safe,” he finally said, so soft you almost didn’t hear it. “So ya gonna stay at that prison tomorrow. An’ that’s that.”

Your breath hitched in your throat as you stared up into his blue eyes, tilting your head up slightly. “Make me,” you whispered, unsure where the boldness came from.

Daryl’s features darkened slightly and you watched his gaze move from your eyes, down to your lips. 

He looked torn, like he was having some sort of internal battle — but all you could focus on was how close he was, how you could reach out right now and touch him.

The ache was becoming too much and just as you were about to lean forward, you heard a growl echo through the silent woods.

And just like that, the moment was gone. Daryl had stepped back and raised his bow, scanning the forrest for the walker. You cleared your mind of the archer and focused on where the growl came from.

The rotting smell you’d gotten a whiff of earlier hit you again, this time much more potent. As if on cue, another loud moan ripped through the air, coming from a different direction than the first and you took a step closer to Daryl. 

“More than one,” you hissed, keeping your gun raised in front of you as the growls grew louder.

Daryl just nodded, eyes narrowed into slits as he surveyed the trees. “We oughta head back ta’ — shit.”

Your eyes landed on what Daryl saw and you felt your stomach drop. 

Walkers. A herd of walkers. More than just the two of you could handle and you both knew that.

You spun around and saw more limping towards you from every direction — you were surrounded.

Shit,” you growled, feeling your heart start to beat faster. There was no way out of this. You were going to have to fight your way out. Or die trying.

You glanced at Daryl but he was already staring at you, looking more distressed than you’d ever seen him.

Nodding once, you shot him a small smile, trying to hide how scared you were. “We got this,” you stated, assuring neither of you.

Daryl nodded anyways. “I know,” he rumbled, voice just as unconvincing as yours.

You took a deep breath, moving to stand back to back with Daryl as the first wave of walkers approached. 

It should’ve been an easy run. 

You began firing at the dead as they limped towards you, landing a perfect headshot each time. From behind, you could hear Daryl reloading his crossbow, a string of curses escaping his mouth.

You went to pull the trigger once more, when the unmistakable click sounded that meant you were out of bullets. There was no way you’d have enough time to go into your backpack and grab more ammo, so instead, you tucked your gun into the back of your pants and unsheathed the hunting knife you kept strapped to your leg. 

You looked back to check in on Daryl, noticing that he had opted for his knife over the crossbow and was stabbing each walker that came at him.

A moan directed your attention back to the task at hand and you stabbed the biter who had appeared in front of you.

It felt as though you were on autopilot — a walker approached, you stabbed, it fell, repeat. You don’t know how many biters you’d taken down when Daryl’s voice pulled you out of your stupor.

“Y/N!” he shouted and you spun around, locking eyes with him. “We gotta go!”

You saw he was pointing towards an opening that had appeared in the crowd of walkers — this was your chance to escape. 

A smile spread across your face and you looked back at Daryl who was now staring at you in horror.

The smile on your face disappeared when a walker launched itself at you, knocking you to the ground, falling on top of you. 

You could vaguely hear Daryl screaming your name, but you were too focused on keeping the biters snapping jaws away from your face. 

You had dropped your knife during the struggle and now frantically felt around for it, keeping one hand around the walkers neck. You groaned, feeling your arm start to shake under the pressure.

“Daryl!” you cried out, searching for the archer, still feeling around the forrest floor.

Finally, you saw movement from the corner of your eye and watched as Daryl took aim at the walker on top of you with his bow. But what Daryl didn’t see was the biter headed straight for him, arms outstretched, teeth bared.

“Behind you!” you exclaimed, just as the biter threw itself at Daryl. 

As Daryl pulled the trigger, he was taken down by the walker, landing hard on his side, his crossbow slipping out of his grasp.

And then suddenly, a blinding pain hit you like nothing you’d felt before — it was as though every nerve in your leg was on fire. A scream escaped your lips before you could stop it as tears sprung to your eyes. 

You managed to peek around the walker, still thrashing on top of you, and felt your stomach turn.

There, imbedded deep into your right thigh, was Daryl’s arrow.

Chapter Text

(Previously…)

“Behind you!” you exclaimed, just as the biter threw itself at Daryl.

As Daryl pulled the trigger, he was taken down by the walker, landing hard on his side, his crossbow slipping out of his grasp.

And then suddenly, a blinding pain hit you like nothing you’d felt before — it was as though every nerve in your leg was on fire. A scream escaped your lips before you could stop it as tears sprung to your eyes.

You managed to peek around the walker, still thrashing on top of you, and felt your stomach turn.

There, imbedded deep into your right thigh, was Daryl’s arrow.


You groaned, clenching your teeth together to keep from screaming. Each move the walker made jostled the arrow and you couldn’t remember ever being in this much pain. 

And then suddenly, the walker went still and was being ripped off your body.

You gasped aloud, finally able to take a full breath without the weight of another body crushing your ribcage. 

A shadow clouded your vision and you focused your eyes straight up, coming face to face with Daryl.

He was standing over you, his face a mix between shock and panic and all you could do was close your eyes, fighting the wave of nausea that came over you.

A loud gunshot snapped your eyes open and you saw Daryl, who had grabbed his own gun,  was shooting at any walker that got too close.

You had no concept of how many walkers surrounded you at this point — how many were in this herd to begin with. The herd wasn’t as big as the one that took down the farm, but it was enough to take you and Daryl down easily.

And now that you were down for the count, it was only a matter of time before there were too many for Daryl to fend off on his own.  

“Daryl…” you whimpered, reaching down and grabbing your thigh, careful not to touch the arrow.

His eyes locked with yours and the panicked look on his face melted into pure determination. 

In one swift motion, the archer picked up his crossbow and slid it over his shoulders before bending down and lifting you into his arms, bridal style, careful not to disturb the injury.

You yelped in pain, unable to stop the cry, and tightly gripped onto Daryl’s vest. He spun around, looking for an exit throughout the mass of walkers that were closing in on you. 

Lifting your head, you peeked over his shoulder and saw a biter approaching from behind. “Give me your gun,” you growled through clenched teeth.

He nodded once, his face stone-like, and somehow maneuvered the gun into your lap while still holding you.

You wrapped both arms around Daryl’s neck and connected your hands behind his head, locking them around the gun. 

Aiming at the walkers coming from behind, you began shooting — ignoring the way your hands trembled, the black spots dancing around your vision, the blood coating your hands. 

Suddenly, you saw a small opening where a group of walkers had divided around a tree. 

“There!” you called out, pointing towards the empty space.

Daryl spun around and spotted the opening, repositioning you in his arms until he had a better hold. “Ya jus’ hang on now, Y/N,” he grumbled, taking off into a sprint, just barely avoiding a swipe from a biter.

You’d never seen Daryl run as fast as he did in that moment — it felt as if you were flying. Or maybe it was the blood loss catching up with you. 

Trees and mangled hands blurred your vision. Every few seconds, you felt something graze you, but just like that, the sensation was gone. 

You kept one hand wrapped around the arrow to keep it from moving and the other held the gun. Every so often, you’d spot a walker getting too close and fired, your aim still good despite the shakiness in your body.

Daryl’s breath came out in steady huffs and you wondered how he had the strength to keep this pace, on top of carrying your extra weight. But the look on his face told you he wouldn’t stop until he found somewhere safe. 

A part of you questioned why you weren’t in as much pain as you thought you’d be — maybe it was adrenaline. Or maybe your body was going numb and slowly bleeding out. 

You raised your head slightly and looked down at your leg — it was soaked in blood, arrow still imbedded. You noticed that your blood had seeped into Daryl’s shirt. He’d probably have to toss it. What a shame. You liked that shirt. It was a nice color on him and —

Focus

Shaking your head quickly, you put all your energy into staying alert. You could feel yourself fading, floating in and out of consciousness. 

Each time your eyes were about to close, Daryl jostled you back awake and ran faster. 

Peeking over his shoulder, you saw the herd had changed directions and was now chasing after the two of you.

You glanced up at Daryl, covered in dirt, sweat and blood — your blood — and felt a warmth spread through your body. 

Obviously these circumstances weren’t ideal, but if you had to be in this situation with anyone, you were glad it was with the archer. 

You barely felt any pain at this point — which should’ve freaked you out — but you welcomed the numbness. Glancing over Daryl’s shoulder once more, you saw the herd was farther behind, unable to keep up.

You looked ahead and saw a couple of biters who’d been drawn in by all the commotion, but they didn’t seem like much of a threat either.

Daryl’s pace had slowed — you were honestly surprised he had lasted as long as he did. He was breathing heavy, drops of sweat dripping down the sides of his face. 

You reached a hand up and gently wiped at a bead of sweat that had settled near the corner of his eye, ignoring the light streak of blood it left there.

His steps faltered and he slowed to a stop, scanning the area intently before his eyes settled on you. He shifted you in his arms and you could see the strain in his face. 

“Put me…down,” you grimaced, trying to wriggle out of his grasp. Daryl looked like he was about to argue, but you shot him a look and he carefully set you down. 

You kept your weight on your good leg, balancing for a moment, keeping one arm around the archer to keep from falling.

You took a breath and shifted your weight, a jolt of pain shooting through your leg. A cry escaped your lips as your body gave out, sending you crashing to the ground. 

The fall should’ve been worse, but Daryl was right there — like he always was — and caught you right before you hit the ground. 

You gnashed your teeth together, ignoring the feeling of the arrow moving beneath your skin as he helped maneuver you to the ground. 

Squeezing your eyes shut, you took deep, measured breaths, digging your nails into the palm of your hand to distract yourself from the pain in your leg. The sun had almost completely set and you knew you needed to find somewhere safe to ride out the night.

Opening your eyes, you saw Daryl scanning the area thoroughly, before he came and knelt beside you. His gaze slid down to your leg, his features darkening slightly and you could see his jaw clench and unclench as he stared. 

“Hey,” you whispered, trying to get his attention. But his focus remained on the arrow sticking out of your thigh, the color draining from his face a little. “Hey,” you said again, a little more forceful, grabbing his chin gently and turning his face towards you.

Daryl’s eyes locked with yours, eyebrows furrowed, expression unreadable. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but a twig snapping in the distance had him jumping to his feet.

A moan sounded from somewhere behind you and you craned your neck, surveying the trees to see if the herd had caught up.

You looked up at Daryl, who was squinting in the opposite direction. He took a couple steps forward, apparently having spotted something beyond the trees. 

“What’re you —”

“Cabin,” he stated, pointing to something ahead you couldn’t see from your seated position.

You sat up a little straighter, a blossoming of hope spreading through you. “Are you sure?”

“C’mon,” he responded gruffly, hurrying over to you and sweeping you back into his arms. 

You stifled the gasp that rose to your throat and locked your arms around Daryl’s neck as he took off once again. 

From behind, you could see the herd in the distance, having picked up steam with their sights set firmly on you.

Your stomach dropped and you turned your focus ahead, finally seeing what it was Daryl saw.

A couple yards in front of you was a cabin. It looked fairly untouched — windows still in tact, front door shut. There was a set of stairs leading up to the front porch, logs of firewood stacked up against the side.

But there was no smoke coming from the chimney, no lanterns or candles lit as dusk took over, no sign that anyone was inside. 

Daryl’s steps slowed as the two of you approached the cabin, coming to a halt at the foot of the porch stairs. You stared up at the cottage, a pit forming in your stomach. 

“What if someone’s inside?” you whispered, glancing up at him. 

Daryl nodded slowly, chest heaving. “We’ll do what we have ta’ do,” he finally grumbled between breaths.

As if on cue, a loud groan sounded, snapping your attention to the side of the cabin. Suddenly, a group of walkers came limping around the side of the house, heading straight towards you. 

“Damn it,” Daryl snarled, readjusting his hold on you and climbing up the front stairs. 

You watched over his shoulder as the walkers stumbled their way up after — about six or seven dead ones in this group.

The cabin could be the perfect hiding spot from the huge herd not far behind. But if the herd was drawn in by this new group, they would tear the cabin apart — including you and Daryl.

Daryl made it to the top of the stairs and ran to the front door, setting you down as gently as possible. You hissed in pain and quickly shifted your weight off your bad leg, holding onto the door frame, ignoring how the world tilted. 

Daryl reached for the doorknob, turned it, and —

It was locked.

“Shit,” he growled, stepping back a couple of feet before attempting to kick it down. 

Keeping your eyes on the walkers coming up the stairs, you felt your heart start to race. You could hear Daryl’s grunts as he relentlessly tried to kick the door in, hearing the wood start to splinter.

“They’re coming,” you urged, trying to keep the panic from your voice. 

Daryl’s kicks became stronger and faster until suddenly, the door flew open and you shielded your face from the shards of wood that shattered off. 

Before you had time to react, you felt Daryl loop an arm around your waist as he half dragged, half carried you into the cabin just as the walkers lunged for you.

It felt as though everything happened in slow motion.

As soon as you were inside the cabin, Daryl let go of you, spinning around and slamming what was left of the door shut. 

The walkers outside pushed against the door, slipping their hands through the cracks, shoving against Daryl’s weight.

The moment Daryl released you, your legs gave out and you landed hard on the floor, crying out in pain. Your vision was starting to go in and out as you stared up at the wooden panels lining the ceiling. 

You craned your neck off the floor and saw Daryl, his back against the door, struggling to keep it shut against the biters. 

He was desperately scanning the room, looking for something he could use to keep the door closed, when his eyes landed on you. 

You squinted, trying to focus on him, but everything was blurry.

Come on, Y/N. Daryl needs your help. Come on, get up! GET. UP. 

The voice in your head screamed at you to do something, to do anything, but you couldn’t get your body to cooperate. You groaned, hands hovering over the injury, careful not to touch the arrow that was somehow still inside you.

A muffled noise drew your attention and your eyes snapped back to Daryl — he was mouthing something. No…he was shouting something.

You shook your head, unable to hear exactly what he was saying. But you could tell by the look in his eyes it wasn’t anything good. 

Daryl was pushed up against the door, still struggling against the walkers, but was frantically pointing at something off to your left.

Your gaze followed where he was pointing and you looked into the kitchen, suddenly understanding his horror as a walker appeared in your vision and launched itself at you. 

A scream escaped your lips as the biter crawled its way up your body, teeth snapping, hands clawing. Daryl’s shouts became louder but you could hardly hear them over your own.

You managed to grab the walker around the neck, keeping it just mere inches from your face as you desperately searched for a weapon.

You spotted a poker laid out near the fireplace, but it was just out of your reach and you growled in frustration. 

Your arms shook under the weight of the biter, black spots seeping into your vision and you knew it wouldn’t be long until your body finally gave out on you. 

Then suddenly, like a beacon of hope, you saw your only chance of making it out alive. 

Before you could think twice, you grabbed the shaft of the arrow imbedded in your thigh and ripped it out of your body, feeling parts of your skin tear in the process.

A blood curling scream echoed throughout the room and it took a moment to realize it was coming from you.

Tears streamed down the sides of your cheeks as you gasped in pain, feeling as though each and every nerve in your leg had been put through a paper shredder. 

Gnashing your teeth together, you took every bit of strength you had left and stabbed the arrow into the temple of the walker. 

It stilled immediately and collapsed on top of you, but you had no energy left to move it.

You laid completely still, vision fading, a numbness taking over your body. 

The last thing you heard was the door crash open, an uproar of growls coming from the dead, and Daryl screaming your name.

And then the world went dark.

 

Chapter Text

(Previously…)

You laid completely still, vision fading, a numbness taking over your body.

The last thing you heard was the door crash open, an uproar of growls coming from the dead, and Daryl screaming your name.

And then the world went dark.


The first thing you felt when you woke up was a gentle but steady throbbing in your leg.

Your head felt heavy, thoughts muddled as you tried to remember where you were and what had happened. Slowly, your eyes fluttered open, blinking away the fogginess as you groaned softly — it felt as though you’d been hit by a truck.

Through cracked eyes, you scanned the room you were in. It was hard to see more than a couple feet in front of you because of how dark it was —  but you noticed a small trashcan in the middle of the room, a flickering fire burning inside it.

You lifted your head up, pushing past the dizziness, and propped your elbows up underneath you. 

At some point, you had apparently been moved from the floor and onto the couch in the living room. You absentmindedly ran your fingers over the soft material beneath you.

It should’ve been an easy run.

Squeezing your eyes shut, you tried to remember what happened. 

Last you recalled, you and Daryl had made it inside the cabin, but the group of walkers had been right behind you, the herd not too far back. You remembered being attacked by a biter who had already been inside the cottage and then the door shattered open and Daryl was — shit.

“Daryl,” you croaked out, your voice thick as your eyes swung to the front door — or lack of — considering how the door was completely ripped off the hinges and lying on the floor.

Your stomach coiled into knots as you swallowed the panic that rose to your throat — Daryl was nowhere to be found. Stifling a groan, you sat up slowly, giving yourself a moment as the world tilted beneath you.

Finally feeling steady enough, you tried swinging your legs off the couch, but was stopped by a sudden ache. 

“Shit,” you growled, tenderly feeling around your thigh.

It was hard to see in the darkness, but you could feel some sort of bandage wrapped around the injury. You scooted towards the far end of the couch, closer to the fire, so you could take a better look.

A large white piece of cloth was wrapped tightly around your thigh, tied at one side. Some of your anxiety disappeared at the sight — Daryl must’ve been the one to wrap your leg, meaning he had to be alive somewhere. 

Hopefully alive in one piece — that was most important. 

Your stomach rolled when you saw the amount of blood soaking the material, along with the rest of your leg. 

If the wound wasn’t stitched up, and soon, you were going to bleed out before you could get back to the prison. 

You took a deep breath and with all the strength you could muster, pulled yourself up to your feet, keeping your weight off your bad leg. 

It took a moment for you to find your balance, but soon you were standing upright. You felt a pinprick of worry when you realized how winded you were by just that small movement.

Pushing past the concern, you grabbed the cabin wall for stability and began limping towards the front door. You clenched your teeth together, fighting back the pain flaring up in your leg, and continued on.

By the time you reached the door, you felt even dizzier than you had been when you first woke up. Black spots danced in your vision as you gripped onto the empty doorway…squeezing your eyes shut…taking a deep breath…and…

Next thing you knew, you were flat on your back, facing the ceiling, the back of your head dully throbbing. 

You laid still, unsure what exactly happened or when you ended up on the floor. 

Whatever you were going to do next was cut off by thundering footsteps out on the porch. You pushed yourself up onto your elbows just as someone approached, their shadow clouding the doorway.

“The hell jus’ happened?” came a gruff voice, one you knew very well and you felt relief spread through you.

“Daryl,” you breathed, letting your head fall back against the floor.

He quickly kneeled by your side, the flames from the fire casting light on his face. You had never seen him look so weary. 

You watched as he gave you a thorough once over, hovering over your bandaged leg, before his eyes settled back on yours. 

Daryl sighed, shaking his head a bit. “Ya look like shit,” he grumbled, but you could hear the fear in his voice.

“Gee, you really know how to make a girl feel special,” you muttered sarcastically, grimacing as you tried to sit up.

Daryl looked unamused at your comment, but quickly leaned down, looping an arm behind your back and under your knees. 

Before you could protest, he had lifted you off the ground and laid you back on the couch in one swift motion. You sighed heavily, resting your head on the arm of the couch as Daryl dragged a chair over from the kitchen. 

“Where were you?” you asked softly as he sat in front of you. 

“Clearin’ out the walkers,” he murmured, rifling through his bag on the floor.

Letting what he said sink in for a moment, you glanced around the cabin. By the light of the fire, you could just make out the shattered front door, the blood stains covering the floor, the broken furniture. 

And you finally realized what was missing from this scene — the walkers.

You looked up at Daryl, unable to hide the shock from your face. “You killed them all?”

Daryl just grunted as he pulled a water bottle from his bag. “Drink,” he demanded, unscrewing the top and offering it over to you.

“What happened, Daryl?” you questioned, prying for information.

The archer gave you a hard look, extending the bottle closer to you. 

You fought back the urge to roll your eyes and reached for the water, wincing a little from the movement. Slowly, you raised the drink to your lips and took a small sip, relishing in the relief it brought to your dry throat. 

“More,” Daryl urged, resting his elbows on his knees. 

You sighed, bringing the bottle back to your mouth and taking a longer sip, savoring every last drop. After you were finished, you held it up to Daryl. “You too,” you spoke, leaving no room for argument.

Daryl took a quick swig, licking his lips afterwards as he screwed on the cap and slid it back into his pack.

“Tell me what happened,” you repeated.

Daryl just shrugged. “Nothin’. Had ta’ get rid a’ them. Would’a brought the herd right ta’ us.”

You couldn’t help but be impressed — you knew how skilled Daryl was, how easily he seemed to fit in with this new world — but he had taken down seven walkers on his own and did so without drawing the herd in. And that was damn impressive.

You frowned suddenly, worry etching your features. “Are you okay?”

The archer paused, seeming caught off guard before nodding once. “I ain’t the one with a hole in my leg,” he grumbled, his eyes darkening. 

“Daryl…” you sighed, shaking your head, not knowing where to begin. You knew how bad Daryl was feeling, how guilty. But it was not his fault. And you didn’t want him to feel burdened like this — you just didn’t know what to say. Daryl was always too hard on himself, made everything seem like it was his cross to bear.

But you just didn’t know what to say.

And with each passing minute, you were beginning to feel weaker and weaker. There was a time and place to have a heart to heart and it was not right now.

“Daryl, my leg — we need to stitch it up or something,” you grimaced, struggling to pull yourself into a sitting position. 

“Ya jokin’, right? We ain’t got no supplies ta’ do a damn surgery, Y/N,” he protested, standing up abruptly.

“So, let’s take a look around the cabin — there’s gotta be something we can use here.”

Daryl shook his head vehemently. “Nah. That ain’t happenin’. Imma get ya back ta’ Hershel an’ he’ll take care of ya.”

“Daryl, I won’t make it back to Hershel. I won’t make it fifty feet,” you pointed out, feeling the rest of your energy dwindling.

“Ya ain’t gotta talk like that,” Daryl snapped, beginning to pace back and forth the length of the couch. “I know the way back ta’ the prison. I can get ya there quick.”

“I’ll bleed out before we get there! We need to close the wound and now.”

Daryl stopped pacing, bringing his thumb to his mouth and chewing on the side of his finger, something you noticed he did when he was nervous. “Shit,” he growled, kicking the cabin wall in frustration. 

You took a steady breath. “We need a needle and uh, thread — or, or fishing wire, dental floss, something to stitch it up.”

Daryl paused before nodding once, avoiding your gaze completely and disappeared into the kitchen.

You closed your eyes, taking a few deep breaths before you decided to check the damage. Ignoring the way your hands shook, you gingerly untied the knot of the bandage wrapped around your leg and began unraveling. 

Every inch of the white cloth was soaked in dark red liquid and your stomach rolled at the sight. You pushed past the nausea and pulled the material from your leg, turning closer to the fire so you were able to see the wound.

The injury was bad — blood was still spilling out of it and down your hands. It was about three inches long and pretty deep, from what you could see. A mix of frayed jean and torn skin stuck out in all different directions and you realized this wasn’t a wound you could stitch.

“There ain’t nothin’ but shit in this place,” Daryl’s voice rang from somewhere in the cabin. 

You swallowed the lump in your throat. There was one other option besides stitching the wound that could work, but it was one you had been trying to avoid.

“It doesn’t matter,” you called back, ripping the material of your jeans a little so you could see the injury better.

Daryl reemerged into the room, chest heaving slightly. 

“We can’t stitch it,” you informed him, wiping the beads of sweat forming at your brow. “When I…when I pulled the arrow out, it tore the skin too much.”

Daryl froze where he stood and by the light of the fire, you could see his hands ball into fists. 

“We have to cauterize it,” you finally said, feeling your stomach flip flop. 

You’d heard Hershel talk about it before — it was meant to be a last ditch effort to stop excess bleeding. But it was painful and could be very risky — cauterizing a wound could lead to a deathly infection. 

You felt a shiver rack through your body as you wiped your brow once again. You were feeling faint now, weakening with every passing minute, your eyelids getting heavier…

“Y/N!”

Your eyes snapped open and Daryl was now crouching in front of you, a hand on either side of your face. 

“I need ya ta’ stay with me, alright?” he continued, trying to hide the panic in his voice.

You nodded weakly, focusing all your strength on staying awake. Daryl nodded once in return, pushing back a strand of hair that fell over your face. “Okay…okay,” he murmured, mentally preparing himself as he stood up. 

He looked down at your leg and you could see his jaw tighten. “Take ‘em off,” he suddenly instructed, motioning to your pants.

Your eyebrows shot up as you snorted a laugh softly. “Why don’t you buy me a drink first, Dixon?”

Daryl looked unamused, cocking his head to the side impatiently. 

Your smile faded and you took a breath. “Sorry, I’m just — I’m just freaking out a little here,” you admitted, another tremor racking through you.

Daryl’s disapproving look turned into one of understanding. “I ain’t gonna let nothin’ happen ta’ ya, Y/N.”

“I know,” you nodded, no waver of doubt in your mind about that. 

You went to unbutton your jeans, but paused, suddenly feeling incredibly self conscious — even in these circumstances, you couldn’t help but feel nervous being half naked in front of this man.

“Uh…” you looked up at Daryl, feeling your face blush. Daryl shot you a confused look, before he realized what you were getting at.

“Oh. Uh, right, okay…yeah, I’ll just —“ he stuttered, turning his body away awkwardly, ducking his head down.

You smirked to yourself and began pushing your jeans down your body, hissing when the material rubbed against the wound. Within seconds, your bloody jeans were down around your ankles and you kicked them to the floor.

“Shoot,” you murmured, unsure how to cover your bottom half.

Daryl turned slightly, thinking something was wrong, but quickly turned back around after seeing you. “Shit. Sorry, I uh…sorry.”

“It’s fine. I’m just…” 

“Here,” Daryl interrupted, slipping out of his vest and shrugging his jacket off, tossing his coat onto the couch while still turned around.

“Thank you,” you mumbled, feeling a warmth spread through you as you covered yourself with his jacket. “Okay, all good here.”

Daryl grunted as he turned around, peeking a glance at you before quickly looking away — you could’ve sworn you saw him flush red.

Another wave of exhaustion hit you. You could really feel yourself fading now…feel fresh blood seeping down your exposed skin.

“Where’s my knife,” you mumbled, feeling around the couch.

“I got it here,” Daryl said, grabbing it off the table in the center of the room. He looked down at it, turning it over in his hand once, hesitation in his eyes.

“We have to do it. I’m loosing too much blood,” you whispered through a shiver. “Hold my knife over the fire. Wait until it’s hot — don’t let the blade turn red or white, that’ll do more damage to my leg than good,” you instructed between heavy breaths. 

Daryl nodded once and quickly did as you said, holding the blade of your knife a couple inches over the flames. 

A few moments later, Daryl pulled the knife from the fire and sat back in the chair in front of you. You eyed the knife, swallowing the lump in your throat. “O-Okay…make sure y-you don’t hold the knife down too long. Only a-a second or two, then pull away and do it again.”

Daryl was silent, staring down at the knife in his hands and you saw a slight tremble in his grasp.

You reached out, gently placing your hand over his free one and shot him a half smile. “I-I’ll be okay. You said so yourself, remember?” you murmured. 

The archer locked eyes with you, his gaze darkening slightly. He suddenly slid his hand out from under yours and reached behind his back. “Bite down on this,” he rumbled, voice deep in his chest as he extended the red rag he kept in his back pocket towards you.

You took in a shaky breath, feeling your pulse start to race. “T-thanks,” you stammered, slightly breathless.

Daryl gently pulled at his coat you had laying over your lap, exposing the wound while still keeping you covered. He turned the knife over in his hands once more, inspecting the blade, before looking up at you. “M’ sorry,” he whispered, his face torn.

It should’ve been an easy run.

You swallowed the lump in your throat and scrunched up the rag, bringing it to your mouth and biting down hard as Daryl brought the knife to your leg. 

And then you started screaming.

 

Chapter Text

(Previously…)

Daryl gently pulled at his coat you had laying over your lap, exposing the wound while still keeping you covered. He turned the knife over in his hands once more, inspecting the blade, before looking up at you. “M’ sorry,” he whispered, his face torn.

It should’ve been an easy run.

You swallowed the lump in your throat and scrunched up the rag, bringing it to your mouth and biting down hard as Daryl brought the knife to your leg.

And then you started screaming.


You thought being impaled by an arrow was the worst pain you’d ever been in — until this moment.

Each time Daryl pressed the blistering metal against your leg, you couldn’t fight back the scream that bellowed from deep in your chest. You bit down harder on Daryl’s rag, somewhat muffling your cries as tears streamed down the sides of your cheeks.

It should’ve been an easy run.

The smell of burning skin filled the room and you had to force down the bile that rose to your throat.

You dug your fingernails into the palm of your hand, slamming your fist against the couch, praying to whatever God was still listening to make the torture stop.

At one point, you physically couldn’t take the pain anymore and began thrashing on the couch, hoping you would eventually just pass out.

Next thing you knew, Daryl was throwing his body on top of yours, pinning your flailing arms down at your sides while he continued to burn the wound closed. 

You could hear Daryl repeating something over and over, but couldn’t quite make out what it was over the blood pounding through your ears. 

“P-please,” you sobbed through the rag, not exactly sure who you were begging to — you just wanted the pain to stop.

You managed to wiggle one arm out from under Daryl, who was still lying half on top of you. Gripping onto the fabric of his vest, you balled your hand into a fist and groaned as the knife sizzled against your skin once again.

It should’ve been an easy run.

At some point, you must’ve blacked out — one moment you were feeling every nerve end in your thigh being set on fire and the next, just nothing.

You heard soft murmuring as your eyes slowly cracked open. “M’ sorry, m’ sorry, m’ sorry, m’sorry,” came a low rumbling from above you.

Your eyes landed on Daryl, who was perched on the side of the couch, his back to you as he worked on your leg. You didn’t feel the pain anymore, just a throbbing tenderness.

Craning your neck slightly, you saw Daryl was gently wrapping your leg, leaving enough room between the cloth and your skin for the wound to breathe. He was shaking his head, apologizing over and over and you felt your heart break a little.

You wanted to tell him you were fine — that you were going to be okay, that it wasn’t his fault. But you couldn’t seem to bring yourself to speak. 

Instead, you gently placed a hand on his bicep, causing him to quickly turn around. 

The expression on his face was enough to shatter your heart completely — his blue eyes were glassy with unshed tears, face constricted and pale, mouth drawn into a tight line.

Daryl sighed quietly, somehow looking even more sad than before — his face seemingly etched into a permanent frown. He reached towards you, slowly pushing a piece of hair from your face and tucking it behind your ear.

Neither of you spoke, each just staring silently at one another — the only sound coming from the crackling, dwindling fire.

You felt numb but decided to enjoy the lack of sensation — knowing that once tomorrow came and your body bounced back from survival mode, you’d be feeling every bit of pain you couldn’t feel now. 

Still, you couldn’t be mad. You were alive. You were breathing. You were here.

You survived and a big reason for that was because of the man sitting in front of you.

Overcome with emotion, tears welled up in your eyes as you gazed at the archer. A warmth spread throughout your chest, a feeling you couldn’t quite place enveloping you as you gently took his hand in yours.

He flinched at the sudden contact, but his hand eventually wrapped itself around yours.

“Thank you,” you finally mustered out, your voice barely above a whisper. 

Daryl grunted and shook his head, casting his eyes down. “Don’t,” he rumbled.

“Hey,” you shot back, trying to catch his gaze. “Hey,” you tried again, a little more forceful as you squeezed his hand. He glanced up at you, looking like a boy who’d just seen his puppy get kicked. “Stop doing that to yourself,” you finished softly, knowing where his head was at.

“It’s —”

Stop,” you cut him off. “It is not your fault,” you said, emphasizing each word.

Daryl just shook his head once more. “Ya could’a died. I could’a killed ya,” he grumbled lowly, face twisted with guilt.

“It was an accident, Daryl. You saved my life,” you urged, needing him to forgive himself.

The archer just shrugged one shoulder up, looking away as he pulled his hand from your grasp. “Don’t matter.”

You sighed aloud, shutting your eyes for a moment, unsure how to get through to him.

By the time you opened your eyes again, a sudden heaviness had settled over you. Your eyelids felt like they were weighted, your body tired and sore and ready to shut down. 

Daryl saw you fading and quickly stood up from the couch, your eyelids drooping further down.

“Get some sleep,” he grumbled softly, pulling his hand away. 

And before you could protest, the world faded away.


You didn’t know how long you’d been asleep — it couldn’t have been long because when you woke up again, it was still dark out.

It felt like the longest night of your life. 

You scanned the room, blinking away the sleep from your eyes. The fire that had been lit in the trashcan had died down, only glowing embers remained, making it difficult to see anything around you.

The pain in your leg was tolerable — it throbbed and itched but you were able to tune it out. Once you got back to the prison, Hershel would disinfect it, give you some painkillers, and then you’d be good as new. 

You and Daryl just had to make it back home.

You groaned softly as you propped yourself up onto your elbows, wondering where the archer had gone. Just as you were about to call for him, you heard light snoring coming from beneath you.

Eyebrows furrowing, you twisted onto your side and peeked over the edge of the couch — and that’s where you saw him.

Daryl was lying on the floor next to the couch — laid out flat on his back, arms crossed over his chest, knife gripped in one hand tucked by his side, snoring softly. 

You couldn’t help but take him in — it was rare to see him like this. He looked so young when he slept, so peaceful. All the lines on his face from stress and worry faded into smooth skin, mouth parted slightly instead of that permanent scowl he usually wore. 

There was no way you were about to let him sleep on the floor like a dog while you got an entire couch to yourself. 

You reached down and softly shook his shoulder. He immediately jolted awake, holding his knife out as he shot up to a sitting position and turned towards you.

“What? What’s wrong?” he questioned, voice thick with sleep as he glanced frantically around the room.

“Sorry, it’s nothing. We’re fine,” you soothed, pulling your hand back. 

He took a deep breath, rubbing his eyes. “Ya good?” he asked, giving you a once over.

You nodded, suddenly feeling a little awkward. “You don’t have to sleep on the floor.”

Daryl paused, confusion spreading over his face. “M’ fine down here,” he shrugged, puzzled as to why you woke him up for that.

“We can squeeze,” you offered, grimacing as you attempted to scoot over. 

“Nah, ya get some rest. M’ good here,” Daryl retorted, looking like he was about to settle back down. 

“Please,” you suddenly spoke up, causing him to stop short. You felt your cheeks flush red, suddenly grateful for how dark it was in the room so Daryl couldn’t see. “I, uh, I really don’t want to sleep alone right now,” you admitted quietly.

You weren’t one to use the guilt trip method, but if it got Daryl off the floor, then so be it. 

The room was completely still for a moment and you could’ve sworn you could hear your own pulse. But a moment later, you heard Daryl slowly pull himself up off the floor, the old floorboards creaking beneath him. 

You twisted onto your side and moved so your back was against the back of the couch. Glancing up, you could see Daryl standing above you, fidgeting in place before he eased himself down onto the couch. 

You made as much room for him as you could, making yourself as small as possible, while still giving your bad leg space to breathe. Daryl slowly laid flat on his back, one arm laying over his stomach, the other he awkwardly moved around, unsure where to lay it. 

Deciding to be bold, you took his arm and wrapped it around you, allowing you to curl up by his side. He froze, body completely rigid, arm hovering slightly above you. It felt as though you were lying next to a brick wall, but you welcomed the warmth — Daryl was like your own personal space heater.

Swallowing the lump in your throat, you took a breath and let yourself melt into his warmth. With your head on his chest, you could hear his heart racing a mile a minute — you hoped he couldn’t hear your own beating at the same pace. 

After a few moments, Daryl lowered his arm, very cautiously, so it was securely wrapped around your shoulders. Some of the stiffness in his body faded, but he still remained tense.

“Thank you,” you whispered aloud, unsure what made you speak up.

Daryl just grunted, almost seeming scared to move, scared to breathe. Like if he did, he could break you into a million pieces. 

You extended one arm out so it draped over his stomach just above his other arm and nuzzled a little closer, soaking in the warmth and comfort he exuded. 

It took a few minutes, but eventually, Daryl relaxed into your embrace a little bit more.

You laid in silence for while, unsure if Daryl had fallen asleep or not. “Daryl?” you whispered, not wanting to wake him if he’d dozed off.

“Hmm?” he responded, the noise rattling deep in his chest. 

You paused, not expecting to get a response. You sighed softly. “Do you want to know how you can make this right?”

Daryl was quiet for a moment. “How?” he responded just above a whisper. 

“Stop blaming yourself. You can make this right by forgiving yourself,” you finally spoke, tilting your head up slightly so you could look up at him.

Daryl looked down at you and you couldn’t help but realize how close your faces were — or the heat that radiated between the two of you. He nodded once, solemnly. “Alright,” he simply said, a bit reluctantly. 

You knew it wasn’t that easy. Daryl would probably never fully forgive himself for what happened to you, but at least he was going to try. And that was all you could really ask of him. 

“Good,” you said simply, finally breaking eye contact and ducking your head down. You rested the side of your face on his chest, feeling a heaviness settle over your body. 

As his chest rose and fell, his heart steadily thumping beneath you, you gently lulled to sleep.

But just before darkness came, you heard Daryl whisper under his breath. “Imma always keep ya safe, Y/N. Always.”

Then his arm tightened around you and the world fell away.

Chapter Text

A sharp growl sounded behind you, making you jump and spin on your heels. Rotted hands clawed at your face, narrowly missing your flesh as you propelled yourself backwards.

Not paying attention to anything else but the monster creeping up, you tripped on an exposed tree root, sending you crashing backwards onto the forest floor. 

The walker was on top of you before you could even get your breath back — its hands coiling around you like rope, the weight from its body crushing all the air from your lungs, leaving you gasping. 

You wanted to scream, you wanted to cry out for help, but you couldn’t seem to get your breath back. And for some forbidding reason, you didn’t think anyone would hear you anyways.

You always knew this was how it would end — in a world like this, there was no ‘peaceful’ death, no quiet passing from old age, surrounded by loved ones. 

In this world, you died bloody. You died scared. You died senselessly. 

This was the death you had expected — you just hadn’t expected it to happen so soon.

A loud groan snapped you back to reality. You weakly lifted your head just in time to see the walker dig its decaying fingers into your stomach, its hands effortlessly splitting your flesh and clawing inside you. 

You watched the blood spill out from your torn skin, the walker frantically raising its red stained hands to its mouth in hunger as you let out a high pitched screech. 

Your cry only seemed to excite the monster further as it let out another growl and lunged for your throat.

All you could do was scream as it latched onto your neck, teeth bared, pulling flesh, digging deeper and deeper until —

You gasped aloud as you shot up from bed, breathing heavy and frantic, still not fully awake.

And then suddenly, someone was grabbing you. 

You could feel their fingers digging into the sides of your arms as you fought vehemently against the restraint. You cracked your eyes open, but everything was blurry and dark and you couldn’t remember where you were — so you continued to fight, feeling like you were in a dream.

You flailed your arms and legs, grunting at the exertion, and felt your fist connect with something solid. 

But soon you were overpowered, pushed back so you were lying flat on your back, arms pinned down on either side of you.

A sob rose to your throat — you were confused and scared and absolutely positive that you were about to die. 

But then suddenly, you heard a voice break through the fog you were in — a voice you knew well. A voice you knew you shouldn’t be afraid of.

“Dammit, Y/N, open your eyes!”

You froze, breath hitched in your throat, unable to stop yourself from trembling. 

“C’mon, wake up, Y/N. Open your eyes,” came that gruff voice again, still gripping onto you, giving you a bit of a shake. 

Your eyes shot open, trying to adjust in the dark before they settled on the shadow of a figure hovering over you.

“D-Daryl?” you stammered, unable to slow your breathing. 

You could hear him murmur something as he let go of one of your arms, the bed creaking under him as he shifted. Light suddenly flooded the room and you realized that Daryl had turned on the flashlight you kept by your bedside, propping it up so the beam shone against the ceiling.

You glanced around the room, watching your shadow dance along the prison cell walls. 

Everything was exactly how it was before you fell asleep — no walkers hiding in the dark, no monsters waiting to grab you. 

You turned to look up at Daryl who was hovering over you, looking down at you worriedly, his hands still pinning down your arms.

“Breathe,” he suddenly demanded lowly and that was when you realized you’d been holding your breath.

You exhaled heavily, feeling the remnants of the nightmare start to fade away. Taking a long, deep breath in, you forced yourself to calm down. 

It was just a dream. You weren’t alone in the forest — you were in the prison, tucked away in cell block C with your group. You were fine. You were alive. You were safe.

“Sorry,” you murmured, voice thick with sleep as another shiver racked through you. “I’m sorry…I-I didn’t — I’m sorry, I —” 

“Ya don’t have ta’ apologize,” Daryl quickly cut you off. 

You stared up at him a moment longer, before nodding once. Silence settled over the cell, before you realized that Daryl was still holding you down. “Uh…” you started awkwardly, feeling your cheeks blush as you squirmed under his grasp.

Daryl seemed to understand what you were saying and immediately tensed up, clearing his throat quickly. “C’mon,” he grunted as he gently pulled you up to a sitting position and let go of you. 

You sighed softly, feeling more tired now than when you first fell asleep. You glanced up at Daryl who was watching you intently — he was sitting close to you, his body hunched over slightly, the bottom bunk not providing much space for two people.

Becoming self conscious of how close your bodies were, you cleared your throat, feeling your cheeks flood with embarrassment. 

You didn’t know Daryl very well — he wasn’t the type of man most people were able to get close to. He kept to himself, really only showing up when he was needed. But ever since the group had found the prison, you’d seen the archer come out of his shell a little. 

You were intrigued by him — there was more to the man than he let on, not that anyone ever got the chance to see it. He was one hell of a fighter, the best tracker in the group, and an all around badass, but there was more to him.

He was bruised. He had a past — a difficult past — but still, he was kind. He cared about everyone in the group, even if he didn’t outwardly show it. But you knew he had one of the biggest hearts. Underneath all that ‘bad boy, don’t give a shit’ attitude, you knew there was a heart.

You wanted to get to know him. And you had a sneaking suspicion that the two of you would get along just fine. 

You weren’t looking to marry the man, you could just see something in him worth getting to know. And maybe getting close to someone like you wouldn’t be such a bad thing for him either. 

But maybe it was for the best to keep your distance — save yourself from the inevitable heartbreak when one of you was viciously taken from the world.

An image from your latest nightmare flashed through your mind.

You sighed again, running a hand through your hair. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Wasn’t sleepin’,” he retorted gruffly, eyebrows furrowed.

“How come?” you asked, curiosity getting the better of you.

Daryl’s eyes darkened slightly as he held your gaze a moment longer, before standing up quickly. “Get some sleep,” he grumbled, as he turned to leave.

“Thank you,” you called after him, stopping him briefly in his tracks. “For…ya know,” you trailed off, not needing to finish the sentence.

He turned slightly, shoving his hands into the pockets of his pants. “Jus’ wanted ta’ make sure ya were okay,” he replied softly, shrugging one shoulder up.

You nodded slowly, casting your eyes downward, your fingers toying with the hem of your shirt. 

Fear was beginning to spread through you, starting at the base of your spine and working its way up. You knew the moment you closed your eyes, you’d see the same horrors you saw every night.

And you just didn’t think you could handle another nightmare.

“I get ‘em too.”

Your head snapped up in surprise at Daryl’s comment. He was no longer looking at you, his head ducked down as if the floor of the cell had suddenly become very interesting.

“You do?” you breathed faintly.

“Mhm,” he murmured, nodding his head. “Sometimes ‘bout them dead ones… sometimes ‘bout my brother…the people we’ve lost…” he trailed off. “Don’t matter none. Always the same ‘ol shit.”

You hummed in agreement, the cell falling silent, each trapped in your own thoughts. 

“I hate sleeping alone,” you suddenly spoke, unsure what made you speak up. You peeked a glance at Daryl, whose eyes were now trained on you. 

Quickly clearing your throat, you continued. “I mean, I hate being alone in general,” you said softly, your voice barely above a whisper. “Bad things always seem to happen when you’re alone.”

“Ya ain’t alone,” Daryl immediately responded. “Ya got a good group of people lookin’ after ya. Ya got a good head on. Ya gonna be jus’ fine, Y/N,” he murmured and you couldn’t help but believe him.

You took a deep breath, hoping your little talk would help you sleep better tonight. This was the most you had ever spoken to the archer — and the most you had ever heard him speak.

Feeling as though there was nothing more to say, Daryl gave you a short nod before turning to leave. “Daryl?” you called after him once again, stopping him from exiting.

“Hm?” he hummed, turning back around and leaning against the doorway.

You felt your cheeks flood, wanting him to know how you felt but also not wanting to ruin the small amount of progress you’d made with him. “I’m…uh, I’m glad you’re here,” you managed to speak, keeping your head down. “I…I feel safe with you here — safer than I have in a long time.”

You peeked up at Daryl from under your eyelashes, trying to gauge his reaction. He stilled as if his body had turned to stone and you could see him shifting his weight back and forth — almost like he was fighting the internal urge to run.

Immediately regretting what you said, you swiftly choked out an apology before flipping off the flashlight by the bed and lying back down, humiliation settling over you. Quickly turning on your side so you faced the wall, your back to Daryl, you pulled your sheet up to your chin and squeezed your eyes shut.

Holding your breath, you waited to hear Daryl’s receding footsteps. You couldn’t see him, but you could feel him — like his gaze was burning a hole into the back of your head. You just wanted him to leave so you could go to sleep and forget any of this happened.

After what felt like hours, you heard his footsteps leave your cell. 

You sighed, suppressing a groan. The last thing you wanted to do was make him uncomfortable — you just wanted to get to know him, to allow him to open up and not be so reclusive. Hell, with the world having gone to shit, everyone could use a friend.

And you hadn’t lied — Daryl did make you feel safe. You liked having him around and felt like he deserved to know the impact he had on the group…on you.

When Daryl was around, you weren’t scared of the nightmares. 

A heaviness slowly settled over you. Though your mind was racing with thoughts of the archer and bad dreams and the current state of the world, your body was tired and beginning to shut down.

You curled deeper into your sheets, allowing yourself to slip into darkness.


When you woke next, you were surprised to see streaks of daylight slipping through the doorway and into your cell.

This was the first time you’d managed to sleep without a single night terror.

Your lips curled up into a smile, a strange feeling coursing through you, like you could cry from happiness right in that moment. Feeling refreshed for the first time in a long time, you rolled over onto your back, stretching your arms above you as you sighed.

And then, as you went to sit up, a sound stopped you in your tracks.

A snore.

Your eyebrows furrowed in confusion as you slowly rolled to your other side, facing out into the cell. And what you saw made your breath stop short.

It was Daryl. 

He was fast asleep on a mattress below you, right next to your bed, arms crossed behind his head as he snored softly. And your heart melted.

You couldn’t believe how much younger he looked as he slept — all the lines from the wear and tear of life disappearing, making him look much more boyish. Much more innocent. Not hardened by life’s turmoil. 

And then it made sense. The reason why you slept so peacefully, the reason why you slept without a nightmare. 

Daryl made you feel safe. Even your subconscious was aware of that effect. 

You sighed softly, feeling a warmth spread through you as Daryl continued to snore lightly. With a small smile on your face, you rolled onto your back, staring at the bunk above you.

The world had ended — and you were probably going to die scared and bloody and senselessly.

But here, in this moment, you had never felt more at peace.      

Chapter Text

You’d lost track of the days.

Time seemed to come and go without much notice, slipping through your fingers like sand from an hourglass. 

You had no purpose, no direction, no hope — all you were focused on was survival, day in and day out. You’d fallen into a routine of sorts.

Wake.

Walk.

Kill.

Eat.

Walk.

Kill.

Scavenge.

Walk.

Kill.

And then you fell asleep, woke up the next day, and started all over.

It was as if a switch had turned off. Who you used to be faded with each day that passed, with each moment that went by and you still had not found your family.

You’d been separated from your group after your home was overrun — by walkers, by bad people, by life refusing to give you any kind of solace.

You had no idea what happened to them — to any of them. The last thing you remembered was the Governor standing outside the fence talking to Rick and then suddenly, he was lifting Michonne’s katana and everyone was screaming and Hershel was…

No, a sharp voice inside your head snapped at you. You are not allowed to go there.

You sighed, shaking away the grief you refused to acknowledge as you pushed forward — not that you had any idea where you were exactly going.

The road ahead of you was barren. Not even the dead roamed it. Just you. 

It was always just you.

You reached behind you for your canteen, pulling it out from the side of your backpack. Supplies were running dangerously low and you had been putting off drinking any of your little remaining water, but you just couldn’t take the thirst any longer. 

You paused in the middle of the road, unscrewing the cap of your canteen and taking a small sip, savoring every last drop.

You closed your eyes, rolling the water around on your tongue, trying to make the most of one sip. But soon enough, the water was gone and you were aching for more. Licking your cracked lips, you opened your eyes.

There had to be something coming up soon — a house, a store, even a shack, for god’s sake.

You’d been walking for days

You were drenched head to toe in sweat — the Georgian heat proving to be quite a force. Dirt was smeared over your exposed skin and clothing — you’d taken to sleeping on the forrest floor or up in a tree most nights. And you were covered in blood. 

It wasn’t yours. At least not all of it.

The amount of walkers roaming around had seemed to double — triple — as the days passed. You had killed more walkers since the prison fell than you had in all the time before that. 

But it wasn’t just walker blood.

It was human, also.

Two people. You had killed two human beings. 

You just didn’t think you could ever come back from something like that. It was a part of your existence now. A part of who you were.

Every time you closed your eyes, you saw them. 

Circling around you like lions stalking their prey, eyes wandering every inch of your body, laughing at the way you trembled under their stare.

The moment you felt their hands grab you, that was when you lost it. You yanked out the knife you kept hidden in your boot and slashed — you slashed and slashed and slashed until the night was as still as everything else around you. 

They were bad people. They were going to hurt you — or worse. You did what you had to do to survive. Just like Daryl taught —

Your breath suddenly hitched in your throat, his face quickly flashing through your mind.

After losing contact with him during the fall of the prison, you’d learned how to force all thoughts of him into the deep, dark, recesses of your mind. 

You didn’t want to think about him. You couldn’t afford to think about him. He was gone. You were never going to see him again. And the sooner you realized that, the better off you’d be. 

A sudden wave of emotion came over you, tightening your chest as a lump formed in your throat. Your legs began to shake under you, your body slowly giving out and before you knew it, you were kneeling on the hot pavement. 

All the feelings you kept at bay were threatening to take over and make you vulnerable — to make you weak.

You had done everything in your power to survive after the prison. 

But you were starting to question what exactly you were surviving for.

Since you had lost your group, you had run into other survivors. Some seemed like decent people, wary of you and that emptiness in your eyes, but still willing to help how they could. 

You didn’t have much to offer anyone — you didn’t have many supplies or a camp they could go back to. All you had was your knowledge of this new world and experience in how to take care of yourself. 

It proved to be enough for most groups. 

You volunteered to go on supply runs, knew how to handle a firearm well, and provided protection for the camp — even teaching a couple people how to defend themselves in hand to hand combat. In return, you received supplies and had people to watch your back.

You kept your distance though — afraid to open up, afraid to get too close. The last thing you wanted was to get attached, to finally feel safe, and then have that ripped away from you too.

So you did your job. You went on runs, you killed the dead, and when nightfall came, you stayed on watch. 

It never lasted though. 

One of two things usually happened — a herd would appear and you would get separated from everyone. Or the entire group was killed off. Just like that.

But not you. Never you. You weren’t lucky enough to be a casualty. 

You were a survivor.

“Jesus, Daryl, are you actually trying to kill me here?” you groaned, the back of your head throbbing as you stared up at the sky.

You heard Daryl snort lightly as you slowly sat up, rubbing the sore spot. “Again,” the archer rumbled, motioning for you to stand up.

You mimicked him softly under your breath, making a face as you stood up. Daryl raised both his hands, each curled into a fist, holding them near his face.

You took a deep breath, imitating his stance as the two of you circled each other, waiting for someone to make the first move. 

Movement in the distance drew your attention. You could see Carl and Lori sitting by the fence near the cell block, watching the scene intently, each looking extremely entertained at you getting your ass kicked. 

All it took was that one second of you looking away and then suddenly, you were flat on your back again. “Dammit!” you shouted, slamming your fists into the grass.

“Ya need ta’ focus, Y/N,” Daryl snapped, almost scolding you as he wiped the sweat forming on his brow with the back of his hand.

“I am focused!” you shot back, feeling your anger spike. “How about you take it a little easy on me, Hulk,” you muttered, wiping the dirt off your hands as you stood up once again.

Daryl’s eyes turned into slits as he took a step towards you. “Ya think any asshole out there’s gonna ‘take it easy on ya’? Huh?” he growled, getting in your face slightly.

“I’m not saying — ”

“Again!” he barked, cutting you off as he raised his fists. 

You clenched your jaw, fighting the urge to roll your eyes. Daryl had insisted on teaching you how to fight — and you wanted to learn, you did — but this was getting ridiculous.

Daryl suddenly threw a punch, which you quickly dodged, bouncing off to the side. He obviously wasn’t using full force — he didn’t actually want to hurt you — but he used enough to get the message across.

You kept your eyes trained on him, rocking back and forth on your toes, waiting for him to strike again. 

He came at you a second time and you jumped back, quickly turning on your heel and landing a swift kick to his side. The corner of Daryl’s mouth quirked up as he nodded in approval.

Distracted by the first inkling of praise you received from him, you didn’t pay attention to his next move. 

And for what felt like the hundredth time that day, you suddenly found yourself lying flat on your back, the wind efficiently knocked out of you.

You groaned, draping one arm over your eyes, blocking the sun. 

“Again,” Daryl demanded and you could clearly hear his patience running thin.

“I’m done for today,” you shook your head, wincing as you pulled yourself up.

“Again,” he repeated, a little more forceful.

“I said I’m done!” you spit out, just as fierce, as you rose to your feet. “Why are you being like this?” you suddenly demanded, rubbing your tender ribs absentmindedly. “You’re not out here forcing anyone else to get the shit kicked out of them by you!”

You saw Daryl’s jaw clench and unclench as his eyes narrowed. “Again.”

You couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief. The man was as stubborn as they come.

“The hell ya laughin’ at, woman? Ya think this is funny?” he snarled, shifting his weight back and forth on his feet.

“No, it’s not funny. Not at all, actually,” you snapped, crossing your arms over your chest. “Look, I’m sore and tired and I’m done for today, alright? We can practice again tomorrow — what is the big deal with that?”

“Ain’t no damn time for tomorrow! We ain’t stoppin’ til ya get this!”

“Newsflash, Dixon! I’m not going to magically turn into the karate kid in one day!” you shouted, waving your hands around exasperatedly.

“An’ I ain’t gonna be around forever, Y/N!”

You stopped yourself from yelling whatever it was you were about to as your stomach sunk a little. 

The words seemed to surprise even Daryl — like he’d said more than he meant to, like he’d voiced a thought he wanted to keep to himself. He scoffed lightly, shaking his head as he gazed off somewhere behind you, chewing absently on the side of his thumb.

“Don’t say that,” you murmured softly, feeling your throat constrict with emotion.

“Ya know it’s true.”

“Daryl —”

“An’ I need ya ta’ know how ta’ protect yourself. I need ta’ know that you’re gonna be okay,” he finished, the fire behind his eyes dying out a little.

You paused, a mix of feelings coursing through you. “First of all, you’re gonna live forever, you hear me? You are not allowed to die, Daryl Dixon,” you demanded, wagging a finger at him as he rolled his eyes. 

“Y/N —”

“Second of all, I’m gonna be fine,” you continued, your voice softening a bit as you took a step towards him. “I’m okay, D. We’re okay. No matter what.”

Daryl stared down at you, not looking like he totally believed you. “Jus’ do what ya gotta do ta’ survive, alright? Jus’ gimme a lil’ peace of mind, will ya?” 

A sad smile graced your lips as you nodded once, taking another step closer to him so you were almost toe to toe. “I’ll do what I have to,” you whispered, reaching a hand up and placing it lightly on the side of his face. 

Daryl stiffened slightly, before leaning into your touch, still looking distressed. 

And then, before he had a chance to do anything, you stretched your foot out behind his legs and shoved him backwards, effectively knocking him off his feet and onto his back.

“Yes! Yes! Hah! Did you see that! I did it!” you screamed in triumph, laughing gleefully as you jumped around the archer in celebration. 

Daryl just propped himself up onto his elbows and watched you dance around, a rare, small smile creeping up on his face.

You came to a halt in front of Daryl, unable to stop yourself from grinning ear to ear. “I’m sorry, are you okay?” you asked, slightly breathless. 

Daryl just grunted, scoffing a bit. “Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled, extending his hand up.

You bit back another laugh as you reached down to help him up. But as soon as your hand wrapped around his, he yanked you to the ground beside him. “Hey!” you protested, shoving him lightly. 

But Daryl just looked at you, a small laugh bubbling out of him, and you cherished that moment — it was rare to see him smile, but to hear him laugh…now that was a novelty.

You couldn’t help but giggle as you laid on your back and stared up at the clear blue sky, taking a big breath in.

Daryl sat up next to you, elbows resting on his knees, exhaling heavily.

The two of you sat like that for a while, side by side, embracing the comfortable silence.

A pang in your heart jolted you back to reality as an unexpected sob rose to your throat. 

You had spent all your time trying to forget about Daryl…trying to forget about all of them.

Your group was gone — lost, dead, or worse and letting those thoughts consume you would lead you to the same exact fate.

But as you sat there, kneeling on the pavement, you realized it was too late.

You had already opened that wound. You opened a door you knew you couldn’t close again. 

You let him in.

The ache in your chest grew, expanding sharp and vast, stealing your breath and causing you to double over. Your breath came out in short gasps as you rested your forehead against the pavement, ignoring the way it burned.

Tears fell from your eyes, landing directly on the asphalt and you could’ve sworn you were having a heart attack from the tightness in your chest.

You didn’t know how long you sat like that, folded over, weeping through all the loss you so badly wanted to forget. 

A growl suddenly sounded from the woods and you quickly sat up, hiccuping slightly as you scanned the area. One lone walker emerged from the trees, limping its way towards you.

You sighed, a small whimper escaping your lips as you wiped the tears from your face and shakily stood up. Grabbing the hunting knife you kept strapped to your thigh, you took a couple steps back, trying to lure the biter to the middle of the road for better vantage. 

“C’mon, you son of a bitch,” you hissed, waiting until the walker was right in front of you to make your move.

As soon as the monster was within arms length, you threw a hard kick to its kneecaps, knocking it off its feet. While it was down, you grabbed the back of its head, yanking it by the hair and stabbing your knife into its forehead in one swift motion.

Chest heaving, you wrenched your knife out of the walkers skull.

This was it. This is what the rest of your life looked like. And for what?

You glanced down at the knife you held in your hands, knuckles turning white around the hilt. 

All it takes is one slash. One stab, one cut, one slit and this could be all over. The pain, the loss, the suffering, a small voice spoke in your mind, a voice that had been frequenting your thoughts. 

Head, heart, wrist…it spoke again, sending a shiver through you.

You turned the knife over in your hand, walker blood dripping from the blade and onto the road beneath you. Bringing the blade closer to your face, you inspected it, a single tear gliding down your cheek.

“Head, heart, wrist,” you whispered brokenly, squeezing your eyes shut. 

All you had to do was —

Stop.

Your eyes shot open, a strangled cry escaping your lips as a new voice spoke up — a different voice.

I told ya…jus’ do what ya have ta’ do ta’ survive. This ain’t the way an’ ya know it.

“Daryl,” you cried softly, hearing him as clear as day in your mind as the knife slid from your hand and clattered on the ground.

Pick up the knife. Put it away. An’ keep walkin’.

“I can’t,” you mumbled, shaking your head solemnly. “I can’t keep doing this.”

Yes, ya can. An’ ya have ta’. Damn stubborn woman.

A laugh suddenly bubbled out of you, hearing that snark in Daryl’s voice. 

You took a deep breath, suddenly realizing that you were standing in the middle of the road, completely alone, laughing at the voices in your head.

“I’ve truly lost it,” you muttered, shaking away the dark thoughts as you picked up your knife and shoved it back into its sheath.

You took another big breath, deciding to continue your trek forward. There had to be a shelter or somewhere to find supplies coming up — there had to be.

But as soon as you took one step, a sudden explosion rang through the sky. 

Jumping at how loud it was, you pulled out your knife once again, scanning the area intently. You knew you were close to the explosion because you could already smell the fire. Looking up at the sky, you could see a cloud of billowing smoke from beyond the trees.

Your curiosity was peeked — this was the first sign of anything in days. An explosion could mean people nearby…but what kind of people? Explosions didn’t exactly scream “safety”.

What if it was an accident? What if there were people trapped somewhere that needed help? Good people?

The distinct sound of gunfire suddenly sounded, scratching your theory of the explosion being an accident.

There was a battle going on. And a big one from the sound of it.

You knew you shouldn’t get involved. This wasn’t your fight. This had nothing to do with you. People may die, but that wasn’t your problem. You can’t save everyone. You should just keep walking. 

But yet, you couldn’t seem to stop yourself from stepping closer to the trees. You knew all too well what it was like to lose everything because of gunfire.

And before you could stop yourself, you took off running into the forrest towards the sound of gunshots.

Chapter Text

 

Your breathing came out in heavy huffs as you ducked under tree branches and jumped over exposed roots. Your body fell into a steady rhythm, keeping up your pace as the sounds of war got louder and louder and louder until —

“Shit!” you cried out as you collided directly into a walker who had appeared from behind a bush.

You ran into the walker with such force, it knocked both of you to the ground with a crash. Your head slammed against a rock and you felt the skin above your eyebrow tear open, blood beginning to drip down the side of your face.

You groaned as black spots danced in your vision. 

The walker suddenly grabbed your arm, trying to sink its teeth into your flesh and you screamed, yanking your arm out of its grasp.

You flipped over onto your back and grabbed the rock you hit your head on, slamming it into the walkers temple. It stilled immediately and you quickly jumped to your feet.

You winced as you put pressure on your right leg, your ankle spasming in protest.

“Perfect,” you hissed, trying to roll your ankle but stopping when another burst of pain shot through you.

With a sigh, you surveyed the forrest, straining to hear the direction the gunfire was coming from, but the woods were silent now — the battle having ended. And you hadn’t been able to do a damn thing about it.

You spotted your knife a couple feet away after having dropped it during the scuffle with the walker. Keeping your weight off your bad ankle, you limped over to your knife and picked it up, holding it tightly in your hand.

Deciding to continue with your plan regardless, you began slowly making your way in the direction you originally saw the smoke.

With a bum ankle, the trek was taking three times as long, but you kept your determined pace despite the pain.

Luckily, you hadn’t run into any more walkers — they most likely were headed in the same direction you were, drawn in by all the noise. Still, you kept your knife up and ready to strike.

After what felt like hours, you finally saw the trees begin to thin out and a clearing appeared in front of you. 

You paused just behind the tree line, scanning the area cautiously. Your body was exhausted, bruised and sore and just about ready to give out, but if you stopped now, you didn’t think you’d start again.

You’d come this far — you sure as hell were not going to give up now.

Taking a breath, you hobbled your way out of the trees and up a small hill until you stood on a new road. Slightly breathless, you looked in both directions, trying to decide on which way to start walking. 

This road seemed like more of a back road — not like the main one you had been walking down earlier. It was almost like a trail, rather than a road.

The trees weren’t as vast on the other side, and you could just barely make out a chain linked fence in the distance. But the smell of smoke was much stronger here, so you knew you were close to wherever the fight took place.

You tilted your head towards the sky, seeing thick clouds of smoke rising from beyond the trees — you realized it was coming from behind the fence. 

Something happened back there. Something big.

Just as you were about to investigate, you heard shuffling feet and low moans. A stray walker had appeared from the trees, heading in the same direction you were. It suddenly caught sight of you and changed its course, picking up its pace as it staggered hungrily towards you.

You sighed, wincing as you limped towards the biter. As soon as you reached the walker, you grabbed it around the neck and plunged your knife through its temple.

The walker dropped immediately as you wretched your knife from its skull, breathing heavily from the exertion. You stared down at the body, watching a small pool of dark liquid form beneath its head. 

All of the sudden, you heard the distinct click of a pistol being cocked just behind you and then —

“Don’t move.”

Your entire body went stiff as a man’s voice rang out from behind you.

“Drop the knife,” he spoke again, his voice low, southern, and sounding none too friendly. 

Your heart pounded against your ribcage, a slight tremble wracking through your body. Vaguely, you could hear the sound of several more footsteps coming from the trees behind you.

The man wasn’t alone.

“I won’t ask you again,” he snapped, agitation leaking through. You could hear him take a step towards you.

There weren’t many options — you were outnumbered and pretty positive that your knife would do little damage to a group of people most certainly armed in some way or another. 

Taking in a shaky breath, you reluctantly dropped your knife, watching it clatter on the ground.

“Turn around,” the man ordered. 

Slowly, you began to turn, keeping your head down and hands up in surrender. You cringed slightly as your ankle screamed in protest, but you bit back the pain.

Another shiver ran through you as you came to a stop, a pit forming in your stomach. You couldn’t find it in you to raise your head and face the man.

Should you ask the man to show mercy? Should you attack and go out swinging? Should you face your fate head on? A million different options ran through your mind until you decided on the one that suited you best.

You were going to be brave.

Taking a deep breath, you looked up.

The man was standing a couple feet away from you, his pistol aimed at your head. You dragged your gaze away from the weapon and locked eyes with him.

You were about to speak — about to tell him and the group of people behind him that you meant no harm, that you weren’t a threat. But something stopped you…something about his eyes.

Suddenly, your breath caught in your throat as you looked at the man — reallylooked at him.

And you were hit with a realization like a punch to the gut — you knew him.

He was thinner than when you last saw him, he was sporting more facial hair and covered in a good amount of blood and grime but it was him.

“Rick?” you whispered, the words tangled up in your throat as you spoke them.

Rick’s eyebrows furrowed, obviously not expecting that to come out of your mouth. But then he looked at you, squinting his eyes and shaking his head slowly as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. 

You could understand the hesitation — you weren’t even sure you would recognize yourself with all the dirt, sweat and blood caking your body.

You could see the gun quiver slightly in his hand as he lowered it, bringing one hand up to cover his mouth as he glanced back at the group, then bringing his gaze back to you.

“Y/N?” he asked, his voice much softer now, in complete disbelief as he took a couple more steps towards you. 

You couldn’t seem to make your feet move, like your body wasn’t fully caught up to where your mind was. All you could do was nod brokenly as a sob rose to your throat.

“Oh, my God,” you heard Rick mumble as he ran the last few steps towards you and pulled you into a crushing hug.

Your arms hung limply at your sides, your mind still not understanding how this could be possible — how you could have somehow stumbled across your group by accident.

Rick pulled away, keeping his hands on your shoulders as he stared down at you in shock. “We thought you were…we didn’t know if…“ his voice shook slightly as he broke off, clearly in disbelief.

You just stared up at him, mouth opening and closing like a fish — so many things you wanted to ask him, but unable to form the words. Rick was one of your closest friends in this new world — could he really be standing here right in front of you?

Rick’s eyes softened in understanding as he gently placed a hand on the side of your neck and pulled you close, pressing a kiss onto the top of your head. He then swiftly reached down and grabbed your knife, handing it back to you, which you feebly accepted and stuck back in its sheath. 

“C’mon,” he murmured, looping an arm around your back and helping you limp toward the people behind him.

You scanned the group, some faces unfamiliar, but others…others you’d seen in your dreams every night. Your heart started pounding faster and faster with each recognition — Maggie. Glenn. Carol. Michonne. Carl.

You didn’t realize you had started crying until Maggie walked up to you and wiped a tear from you cheek, enveloping you in a hug. “Thank God you’re alright,” she whispered through a sniffle as she pulled away.

Glenn placed his hand on your shoulder, a tired smile breaking across his face. “Good to have you back, Y/N,” he murmured, his voice constricting with emotion.

You looked at each and every member of your group — the family you thought you’d lost forever — and felt your heart swell with a feeling you hadn’t felt since you’d lost them.

But something was missing — he was missing.

You needed to know. You needed to know if Daryl had made it. But you couldn’t seem to bring yourself to ask — afraid you would find out that the archer, in fact, had not survived.

A sudden rustling in the woods sent everyone into high alert. But the suspense didn’t last long when someone emerged from the woods, pushing through a thicket of trees. 

Then your eyes locked with his.

Your breath caught in your throat.

And your heart stopped.

Daryl

You wanted to believe it was true — no, you needed it to be true. But all this time on your own, maybe your mind was playing tricks on you. Maybe you’d finally cracked. Hell, a couple of minutes ago you were conversing with the voices in your head.

But still, you couldn’t drag your gaze away from him. 

Daryl was staring at you with such intensity, it felt as though his eyes were burning a hole into your head. His chest was heaving, strands of hair splayed across his forehead, sticking to the sweat on his brow. He took a small step back, as if he didn’t know what to do with himself, shaking his head slightly in disbelief.

You took a few small steps forward, heart pounding against your ribcage. “Daryl?” you whispered thickly, said so softly you weren’t sure he even heard you.

But then suddenly, like a switch turned on, Daryl heaved a breath and ran towards you. He shrugged off the crossbow slung over his shoulder and grabbed you, pulling you to his chest in one swift motion.

His arms wrapped around you, hugging you so tight it was almost difficult to breathe, his breaths coming out in huffs next to your ear. 

This isn’t real. This is all a dream. You’ve finally lost your mind…too much time in the sun…not enough water. This can’t be real…can it? came that haunting voice from earlier.

Tentatively, you lifted your arms, slowly wrapping them around Daryl’s back. 

He felt real. He felt warm and solid and familiar underneath your fingertips — a distant, inviting feeling stirring inside you.

But then Daryl was pulling away and you felt a sudden emptiness in the spaces he had filled. He crouched down slightly in front of you, placing a hand on either side of your face. You gazed at him, his eyes wide and glassy with unshed tears. 

“T-this…this isn’t real,” you mumbled, your words slurring slightly — and you could clearly hear how delusional you sounded.

Daryl’s eyes softened. He quickly sniffed and cleared his throat, wiping a tear that snaked down your cheek.

You gently placed one hand on the side of Daryl’s face, ignoring the way you trembled. Gingerly, you traced his features — like you had to make sure every part of him was real flesh and blood in front of you and not just a figment. 

You were vaguely aware of the rest of the group surrounding you, no doubt watching the exchange, but you just couldn’t bring yourself to care. 

This was real. 

He was real.

Once that realization hit, a sob rose to your throat and you threw yourself at the archer, snaking your arms around his neck. He returned the hug, just as tight — just as desperate.

The floodgates were open and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t stop the tears from falling. You could hear sniffles from various members of the group and soft murmurs, but all you could focus on was the solidity of Daryl — how his touch grounded you, made you see ration and reason and hope.

You didn’t know how long the two of you stood there, relishing in the embrace of someone you thought you lost. 

But Rick suddenly approached, placing a hand on the archers shoulder. Daryl stepped back, though careful to keep you within arms length.

“We’ve gotta get goin’. The dead are comin’,” the sheriff murmured, motioning towards a couple of walkers farther down the road.

You heard the group shuffle their belongings, getting ready for the trek ahead. Some started walking, others stopped to welcome you back with a quick hug or pat on the back. 

Daryl swooped up his crossbow and slung it over his back, never taking his eyes off you — like if he looked away for a second, you’d disappear once again.

The rest of the group filtered ahead, leaving just you and the archer standing side by side.

He reached over and grabbed your shoulder, turning you to face him as he surveyed your body. “Are ya hurt?” he rumbled, face etched with concern.

The sound of his voice further proved that this was not in fact a delusion and you had to fight back the sudden onslaught of fresh tears. 

You shook your head, swallowing the lump in your throat. “I’m great,” you whispered, a smile spreading across your face despite the circumstances. 

Daryl nodded once, the corner of his mouth quirking up, before settling back to his normal stoic features — some things never change.

The archer lifted his hand from your shoulder to gently touch your face, running his thumb over your cheek. You reached up and covered his hand with your own, entwining your fingers with his. 

Daryl tensed slightly, before he relaxed into your touch — old habits die hard. 

“C’mon,” he said gruffly, nodding in the direction the group had started walking.

You went to take a step but was stopped by a spasm of pain in your ankle — throughout all this, you’d forgotten about your injury. You hissed, cursing inwardly as you glanced up at Daryl.

The archer had that ‘disapproving but silently judging you’ look on his face as he untangled his hand from yours. He quickly wrapped his arm around your waist, hoisting you up slightly so most of your weight was off your bad ankle.

“Damn stubborn woman,” he grumbled under his breath, in regards to your previously false statement of ‘being great’.

A small laugh bubbled out of you, surprising both you and Daryl. You felt his grip on you tighten as you finally caught up to the group, hip to hip.

There was so much you wanted to say to Daryl — so much you wanted to ask. But there would be a time for that. And that thought alone could bring you to tears. 

There was time.

Your group had been through a lot — losing loved ones, watching your safe haven turn into a war zone, and now being back on the road, the future unknown. 

But you were all together. And that brought you more comfort than any place you’d ever been.

You may have lost the prison, but you’d finally found your home.

And surviving just didn’t seem so impossible anymore.

 

Chapter Text

You weren’t sure of many things.

But there was one thing, in this moment, you were absolutely certain of.

You were completely screwed.

It was sometime in the afternoon, you were alone, and your truck had decided it was time for an early departure. You’d been pretty confident that your pickup would last another fifty miles, but going along with the theme these days, it met an early demise.

The pickup wasn’t yours — you’d stumbled upon it a couple weeks ago in a deserted parking lot. It was pretty banged up — the green paint chipping, scratches and dents, a streak of blood here and there. But in a rare stroke of luck, you’d found the keys in the glove compartment and a full tank of gas.

In light of everything you had been through, some good fortune was well deserved.

You slammed your hand against the steering wheel as the truck rolled to a stop, steam seeping out from under the hood. 

Putting the truck into park, you shut off the engine, taking a deep breath. You turned the key, hoping to hear the engine turn over. “No, no, no, c’mon baby,” you murmured as the truck sputtered for a moment, before ultimately dying out.

You yanked the key out of the ignition with more force than necessary and threw it at the windshield, it clattering onto the dashboard. 

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” you sighed aloud, pinching the bridge of your nose. 

The smell of exhaust floated through the open window, the steam becoming thicker. You shoved the door open and hopped out of the truck, coming to a stand in front of the hood.

After some jostling, you popped the hood open and took a step back, coughing as you ingested some smoke. A few moments later, the smoke settled and you approached the car once more.

You had no idea what you were supposed to be doing. Sure, you knew how to jumpstart a car or check the oil, but other than that, this was unfamiliar territory.

Sweat dripped down the back of your neck as you swiftly pulled your hair up into a high ponytail. You shrugged off your flannel, feeling much cooler in just a white tank top, and tied the extra layer around your waist. 

With a huff, you placed your hands on your hips and stared down at the mess of metal, unsure what you were even looking at. You didn’t know what to touch without making the situation worse. 

You sighed heavily. It was going to take you ten times longer to get to downtown Atlanta now — and that was if you even made it that far on foot.

The last you’d heard, Atlanta was a safe zone — the military had set up camp in the heart of the city with food, medical supplies, and weapons. Heading there had been the plan and you would’ve arrived a lot sooner if —

You felt a pang in your chest, tears springing to your eyes as you quickly grabbed the necklace hanging around your throat — a feeling of calm instantly washing over you. It was a long silver chain that fell just beneath the collar of your tank top, two objects strung through the coil.

Your parents wedding rings.

Your mom had died first. Right at the beginning of the end. It was during the time when no one had any idea what exactly they were up against — had no idea that a bite meant ‘game over’.

Your dad followed just a few months later. After your mom passed, your dad just sort of…faded away. Part of you shut down after his death. Like if you didn’t acknowledge the loss, it didn’t really happen. 

There had been a herd…the two of you surrounded…and your dad just…he just let go — provided himself as a distraction long enough for you to get away. You’d managed to push through the herd that’d been distracted by your fathers shouts. 

Once you’d stumbled out into the open, you spun around, desperately searching for your father. And there you’d spotted him, the first wave of walkers finally closing in on him…tearing into his flesh…

But he didn’t scream. He didn’t cry.

He smiled.

The weight of someone’s sacrifice is a heavy burden to bear.

After your father was taken down, you’d ran back to the car, feeling as though reality was nothing but a blur. Just as you were about to start the car, a glint of light drew your attention. 

Hanging from the rearview mirror was the chain your dad used to wear — your mom’s wedding ring strung through it. And it took a moment before you realized his ring now hung next to hers.

Together again at last.

Part of you felt like your dad knew that he wasn’t going to make it — the run was going to be dangerous, a possible death sentence. That’s why he left his ring. He wasn’t cut out for this kind of world and it was only a matter of time before he lost the last thing he had left — you.

You squeezed the rings in the palm of your hand, grounding yourself, before letting them fall back into place on your chest.

Now was not the time to deal with your trauma — you had a broken down truck, about thirty miles to go, and nearly two hours until nightfall.

You leaned over the engine, trying to figure out where exactly the smoke was coming from. If you could just get the truck started again, all your problems would —

“My, oh, my…an’ what’d we have here?” a voice suddenly rang out, causing you to jump and turn.

A man you’d never seen before was standing just a couple feet behind you, staring at you in a way that made you feel incredibly exposed.

“Now what’s a pretty lil’ thing like yourself doin’ all the way out here in Bumblefuck, Georgia?” he cooed, sneering at you.

Struggling for words, you slowly inched backwards, cursing yourself for leaving your gun in the truck. Rookie mistake.

“C’mon, darlin’. I ain’t gonna bite ya,” the man purred, taking a step closer. “Unless ya ask me ‘ta,” he finished with a wink.

“I’m not looking for trouble,” you managed to squeak out. It seemed like the right thing to say.

But the man just laughed, loud and bellowing, as he rubbed a hand through his buzzed gray hair.

Your heart pounded against your ribcage. “What’d you want?” you finally asked, feeling your back hit the front of your truck.

The man feigned innocence. “I’m jus’ tryna get ‘ta know ya. Is that a crime?” he shot back, his eyes darkening. 

You swallowed the lump in your throat as you began to maneuver around the truck, towards the drivers side door — where you could easily grab your gun.

“Why ya runnin’ from me? I asked ya a damn question, woman!” the man called after you, his voice threatening. 

Then suddenly, he was closing the gap between you.

You spun on your heels and ran for the door, reaching inside the open window for the gun you’d left on the middle seat. 

But right as your fingertips grazed the handle, you felt the man wrap his hand around your ponytail and yank you backwards. 

You cried out in pain as he spun you around and slammed you into the truck, keeping one hand wrapped in your hair and the other pressed against your throat.

Your breath came out in huffs, a tremor racking through you. The man ticked his tongue disapprovingly. “Jus’ what in the hell were ya thinkin’, sweetheart?”

You glared at the man — deciding to let your rage override your fear.

“Whatcha hidin’ in there?” the man questioned, nodding towards your truck. “Let’s take a looksie, shall we?”

The man turned his attention away and you used the opportunity to slam your heel into the top of his foot. He howled in pain and released you, giving you enough space to throw a solid right hook, connecting with his jaw. He stumbled backwards as you spun around once more, reaching desperately for your gun.

You grabbed the handle just as the man got his footing. The moment you turned around, he launched himself at you, slamming you back into the truck. 

He slapped the gun away, a single shot ringing through the air. You grunted from the exertion, fighting with all your strength, but quickly found yourself overpowered.

Within seconds, he had wriggled the gun from your grasp and threw it to the side, pinning your arms on either side of your head. He chuckled, slightly out of breath, a gleam in his eye that told you he had truly enjoyed the little scuffle.

“Damn, girl. Ya got a nice arm on ya,” he rumbled, his voice deep with a southern drawl. “I like ‘em feisty,” he whispered, before spitting a glob of blood onto the pavement.

“I don’t have much. Take it all. Just leave,” you urged between heaving breaths. “Please,” you added for emphasis, hoping the man show mercy.

The corner of his mouth quirked up into a smirk as he looked you up and down, hovering a moment too long on your chest. He suddenly let go of your hands and pulled out a hunting knife from his belt.

Holding the blade towards you, he bent down and scooped up your gun. “Ya know, I think I’m feelin’ mighty generous today. I think I’ll jus’ take a couple things an’ then I’ll be on my merry way,” the man spoke, almost like he expected a ‘thank you’.

When you remained silent, he went about his business. The man tucked your gun into the waistband of his pants and opened the door to your truck, rummaging through your belongings and throwing the things he didn’t want onto the pavement.

You stared off into the trees, standing motionless. Part of you wanted to fight back — he was vulnerable with his back turned to you. But he was stronger, faster, and now had not one but two weapons. 

Objects could be replaced. Your life on the other hand…

The man slipped out of the truck, empty-handed except for a water bottle he’d found and his hunting knife. “Ya weren’t lyin’ when ya said ya didn’t have much,” he grunted, cracking the bottle open and taking a long swig. He screwed the lid back on and threw the bottle onto the ground. “Ya ain’t got shit, girl.”

You remained silent. He once again looked you up and down, almost curiously, before his eyes settled on your neck.

“Gimme that,” he stated, pointing towards your necklace with his knife. 

Your hand immediately came up to clutch the chain, your heart stilling. “Please…” you finally whispered. “It was my parents,” you finished, as if sentiment would make a difference.

The man scoffed, towering over you intimidatingly. “An’ now it’s mine.”

You slowly lowered your hand, willing yourself not to cry in front of this horrible man. 

He reached for you, his hand hovering just above your chest. His fingers lightly traced the top of your cleavage as he fished out the bottom part of the necklace. He puffed his chest out, clearly pleased with himself.

You clenched your hands into fists to stop yourself from clawing his eyes out.

He examined your parents wedding rings in the palm of his hand. “These some mighty fine rings ya got here,” he stated with a low whistle before pulling the necklace up over your head and sliding it over his own. 

An emptiness settled over your chest where the rings use to lay. The last remaining pieces of your mother and father now hung around the neck of a monster.

“Please, you can have anything else, just…just not that necklace. Please,” you pleaded, unashamed. You just couldn’t allow that man to walk away with such a big piece of yourself.

The man chuckled, shoving his knife back into its sheath and pulling out your gun instead. 

“Please,” you urged, taking a step towards him, not even phased by the gun now pointed at you.

“Back up, lil’ lady. I’d hate ta’ ruin that pretty face of yours.”

“Please!” you shouted, angry tears forming in your eyes.

“Are ya deaf or jus’ fuckin’ dumb? I said back —”

“I’ll do anything!” you interrupted, holding your hands up in surrender.

The man paused, that malicious gleam returning in his eyes and it didn’t take a genius to know where his mind was at. 

“Well, I’ll be god damned…are ya hittin’ on me, sweetheart?” he taunted, licking his lips quickly. 

Your body stilled and you immediately regretted opening your mouth.

Anythin’, ya say?” the man leered, lowering the gun slightly. “Well, how ‘bout ya c’mere an’ take off your —”

“The hell is goin’ on here?” another voice rang out, snapping your head towards the trees.

A second man suddenly emerged, storming out of the forrest and heading straight for the first man. 

There was two of them and one of you. Any thought you previously had of getting out of here alive disappeared instantly.

“Nice of ya ta’ join us,” the first man jeered, clapping the second man on the shoulder. 

The second man shook off the first man’s hand, eyes darting between the two of you in confusion. “The hell ya doin’, Merle?” the second man snapped, staring at you for a moment longer.

“Jus’ havin’ a lil’ fun with the locals,” Merle brushed off, lowering the gun. 

The second man surveyed the scene quickly — the ransacked car, the look of fear in your eyes, the look of triumph in Merle’s — and put two and two together. 

Whatever his reaction was, he hid it well, his face turning even stonier than it already was. “Let’s get the hell outta here,” he rumbled, glancing at you once again. 

And you could’ve sworn you saw something in his eyes in that split second — it almost looked like guilt. 

Merle scoffed, hacking another mouthful of blood onto the road. “I ain’t done playin’, lil’ brother. I’ll catch up with ya,” he grunted, training his eyes back on you.

A chill settled over your bones and you glanced desperately at Merle’s brother, who seemed more reasonable.

The brother locked eyes with you and seemed to understand what you were thinking. He tore his gaze away and shook his head. “Nah, c’mon. Let’s go,” he urged his brother, placing his hand on his shoulder to pull him away. 

Merle shook off his brother’s hand, turning to face him head on. “Get on home, Daryl,” he ordered, a sharpness to his voice. 

Then he twisted back around and began stalking towards you.

You quickly shuffled backwards, shaking your head back and forth frantically, hands still up in surrender. “No, no, no, please, don’t — ”

“Hey!” Daryl shouted and you suddenly saw him right on Merle’s heels, grabbing his arm and pulling him away from you. 

Merle spun around and shoved Daryl off him. “The hell’s the matter with ya!” Merle growled, getting into his brothers face.

Me? The hell’s the matter with you!” Daryl snarled in return, shoving Merle back before pointing a finger in your direction. “We’re supposed ta’ be findin’ food for our people an’ instead I find ya out here pullin’ this shit? Again?”

You felt sick. You clearly weren’t the first person Merle had tormented. 

“Ta’ hell with those people! They ain’t ‘our people’, lil’ brother. Never was, never will be. Me an’ you, Darlina — that’s all we got now.”

You saw Daryl clench his jaw, rolling his eyes slightly, looking thoroughly done with his brothers antics. 

He shifted back and forth on his feet, his finger twitching towards the crossbow strapped across his back. You hadn’t even realized he was armed in the midst of all the chaos. 

This felt like a private moment between the two brothers, like you’d accidentally stepped into the middle of their lives — and you wanted no part of it.

While the two men were distracted, you began slowly inching away, hoping to make it around to the other side of the truck. From there, you’d take off into the woods — it’d be enough of a head start to hopefully throw the men off your trail.

But you only made it a few inches before Merle’s voice cut through the air. “An’ where the hell ya sneakin’ off ta’, darlin’?”

Your body stilled, head snapping up, eyes locking with Merle’s. And then suddenly, he was raising your gun…clicking the safety off…aiming the barrel at your head and —

“Hey!”

Your gaze swung over to Daryl, who now held his crossbow in his hands, the tip of the arrow pressed up against Merle’s temple.

Everyone froze. You couldn’t hear anything over the blood pounding in your ears. You held your breath, watching Daryl’s eyes darken as they frantically bounced between you and Merle — yet his crossbow remained steady.

Merle, on the other hand, just chuckled and you were starting to realize that laughter seemed to be his automatic default. 

He whistled through his teeth, glancing at Daryl over his shoulder. “Well, I’ll be damned. Look who decided ta’ put on his ‘big boy panties’ today,” he sneered and although his expression was furious, you could almost hear a sense of pride in his voice.

“Drop it,” Daryl growled, voice low and threatening.

“I see how it is. Ya rather side with the skank than you’re own flesh an’ blood,” Merle scoffed, shaking his head. 

When Daryl didn’t waver, Merle rolled his eyes dramatically, lowering the gun with a sour look on his face. “Give it back ta’ her,” Daryl continued, motioning towards your gun.

Merle once again scoffed, almost incredulously, and threw the gun off to the side. He then turned to face Daryl head on, his features darkening. “We gonna have ourselves a nice lil’ chat back at the camp, ya hear me?” Merle rumbled lowly, the subtext loud and clear.

Daryl was going to pay hell for standing up to his brother. 

And you couldn’t help but feel for him.

The archer slowly lowered his weapon, any emotion he was feeling masked by that same stoic look permanently etched on his face. Merle started to move away, but Daryl quickly stepped in front of him. 

“An’ that,” he said simply, pointing at your necklace wrapped around Merle’s throat.

Merle muttered a string of curses under his breath as he ripped the necklace off and threw it at your feet. He glanced up at you and winked. “See ya ‘round, darlin’,” he spat, before storming off. 

Even as you watched him stalk off into the forrest, you could still feel your heart hammering in your chest, afraid he’d change his mind and come back for you. 

You quickly bent down and picked up your necklace with shaky fingers, pulling it over your head and exhaling heavily — you hadn’t even realized you’d been holding your breath. You clutched the chain and squeezed your eyes shut.

You were vaguely aware of Daryl’s presence, who apparently hadn’t followed his brother into the woods. Your eyes shot open as you opened your mouth, about to tell him off, but something about his expression stopped you.

He was watching you, standing completely still, expression drawn tight — but his eyes…his eyes you couldn’t quite place. He almost looked…sad.

“M’ sorry ‘bout my brother,” Daryl suddenly spoke, breaking the tension between you two. It was the first time he’d addressed you directly and you simply didn’t know what to say. When you remained silent, the archer continued. “He’s a real prick sometimes.”

You scoffed humorlessly. “Yeah, no shit,” you bit back sharply, breaking eye contact with the man. 

Wordlessly, you marched over to where Merle had thrown your gun and picked it up, shoving it into the waistband of your jeans. You began scooping up everything that had been thrown out of your truck. You could feel Daryl watching you move about the scene, but he made no attempt to help. 

Which was fine

You didn’t want his help. You wanted him to leave you the hell alone.

A fresh wave of anger started building up inside you as you threw your stuff into the backseat of the truck. Who the hell did this guy think he was? His brother almost tried to kill you and now he was just standing there, watching you pick up the few pieces left of your life.

You spun around, about to tell Daryl where exactly he could stick his apology, when he spoke up once again. “Want me ta’ take a look?”

You paused, confusion spreading over your face. “Excuse me?” you snapped, placing a hand on your hip.

Daryl quickly cleared his throat, the tips of his ears turning a light shade of red. “The truck…I mean the truck,” he clarified, motioning to the open hood. “Maybe I can, uh, get ‘er up an’ runnin’ or somethin’,” he offered, slinging his crossbow off his shoulder. 

Your eyebrows furrowed as you stared at the man warily. “Why?” you retorted cautiously. 

Daryl simply shrugged one shoulder up, shaking his head slightly. “Least I can do.”

Your expression faltered, some of your anger fading. “I guess,” you finally said, nodding your head once.

The man said nothing else and headed straight for the truck, propping his crossbow up against the front wheel. He exhaled heavily as he surveyed beneath the hood, eyebrows furrowed in concentration. 

Daryl began fiddling with different parts, working silently and efficiently. His fingers moved delicately, which came as a surprise considering how he seemed a bit ‘rough around the edges’.

He peeked up at you and quickly did a double take, seeming surprised that you’d been watching him. It could’ve been the Georgian heat, but you thought you saw his cheeks flush a slight pink.

“There’s, uh, there’s some tools in the back if you need them,” you murmured, crossing your arms over your chest. 

Daryl just grunted once, which you figured meant ‘yes’.

You made your way to the bed of the truck, hoisting yourself up and grabbing the toolbox stashed near the front of the cab. Hefting the box back around the truck, you dropped it near Daryl’s feet and took a couple steps back, letting him continue his work.

You finished gathering all your belongings and shoved them back into your pack, wiping the sweat that formed on your brow. 

After you were finished getting your things in order, you came to a stand near the hood, leaning casually against the truck. Daryl didn’t seem big on conversation, choosing to work in silence rather than awkward small talk.

But you were too curious for your own good. “So, you’ve got a camp around here?”

Daryl glanced up at you from under his eyebrows, almost trying to gauge your question — like he was deciding whether or not you were a threat. He focused back on the truck and grunted once.

You took that as a ‘yes’.

“Where ya headed?” Daryl suddenly asked, making you pause. You hadn’t expected a question in return. 

“The city. I hear Atlanta’s safe,” you finally murmured, staring down at your boots. 

“It ain’t.”

Your head shaped up at his response, your heart plummeting. “What?” you whispered incredulously. 

Daryl quirked a brow and straightened up, wiping his hands on a red rag he pulled from his back pocket. “Ain’t nothin’ left. Jus’ them geeks,” he rumbled, watching your expression carefully.

“How’d you know?” you demanded, unable to stop the sharpness in your voice.

Daryl didn’t seem to be affected by your tone and continued on. “We got a guy. Makes runs downtown. Says everythin’s gone ta’ shit. Military up an’ left. Or turned if they didn’t.”

Your dropped your head to your chest, hiding the tears that suddenly sprang to your eyes. Atlanta had been a long shot — but it’d been your only shot. You’d been holding on to that last strand of hope that there was something left…anything left. 

But the world was truly over.

And that was one hell of a pill to swallow.

You felt Daryl watching you and quickly pushed away from the truck, heading towards the cab. Wiping a tear that snaked down your cheek, you hopped into the bed of the truck, letting your legs dangle off the back. 

You toyed with your necklace absently, brushing away another tear, staring off into the woods. Suddenly, you heard the hood slam shut and Daryl’s footsteps quietly approaching you. He came to a stop beside you, resting one forearm on the truck.

You peeked over at him, noticing how he was staring off in the general direction you had been, eyes far away. He stood awkwardly, like he had something to say but couldn’t exactly get the words together, which led him to just shift his weight back and forth.

For the second time, you wondered what this man was still doing here. Trying to make up for Merle? Trying to pay off some kind of debt? Whatever he was trying to accomplish, he didn’t need to suffer through your breakdown with you.

You sniffled, taking a breath. “Why are you still here?” you whispered thickly — not accusingly, more so just curious as to why he was helping you.

Daryl seemed thrown off by your question, looking even more uncomfortable. “I, uh, I don’t know,” he responded truthfully, shrugging a shoulder. “Don’t got no where else ta’ be, I guess,” he shrugged and you couldn’t tell if he was trying to be funny or not.

He didn’t seem like the ‘joking’ type, but regardless, you couldn’t help but feel a small smile creep on your face. His expression remained stony, but there was a shift in his eyes — deep in his eyes, but you could see it.

Daryl suddenly cleared his throat, pushing off the truck. “Try startin’ ‘er up.”

A small glimmer of hope bubbled in your chest and you quickly hopped off the truck. You slid past Daryl, yanked open the drivers side door and jumped inside. Grabbing the keys still lying on the dashboard, you said a silent prayer and shoved them into ignition. 

You took a deep breath and turned the key.

And the sweetest noise you’d ever heard in your entire life filled the air — an engine roaring to life.

Your breath caught in your throat as you squeezed your eyes shut, letting your head fall back against the headrest. 

It was about damn time you caught a lucky break.

You opened your eyes and looked over at Daryl, who was standing next to the open door, the corner of his mouth quirked up in what you assumed was the closest you were going to get to a smile.

“I don’t even know what to say,” you murmured, catching his eye. “How did you do it? I can’t even believe…you…just…thank you. Thank you so much,” you babbled earnestly, hoping your words expressed how grateful you truly were.

Daryl merely shrugged, clearly not comfortable taking a compliment. “Gonna need a different car soon. The, uh, the engine’s pretty shot,” he mumbled, shutting the door softly, but hovering near the open window. 

“Thank you,” you said again, feeling a tightness in your chest fade.

Daryl nodded once, scooping up his crossbow and slinging it over his shoulder. He took a couple steps backwards, clearly waiting for you to drive off. 

But you paused. Now that Atlanta was out of the picture, you didn’t know where to go.

“Fort Benning,” Daryl suddenly spoke, like he’d somehow read your mind. 

You turned your head and looked at him curiously. “What?”

“Fort Benning. Hear it’s still up an’ runnin’. My group might be headin’ that way soon,” he offered, adjusting the strap of his crossbow.

You nodded thoughtfully. That didn’t sound like a bad idea. It was basically the only idea.

“Thank you, Daryl,” you murmured, now feeling like you owed him something. “Is there anything…can I give you something, or — I-I don’t have much but — ” you began rambling.

“Nah,” he immediately interjected, shaking his head quickly.

You sighed and locked eyes with him, it still feeling unfair to just leave. “Are you sure —”

“Nah, we’re square,” he countered, his voice unwavering. 

And with nothing left to say, you shot him a small smile, put the truck into drive and started forward.

You’d only moved a couple feet when you heard Daryl call after you. “Hey!” he shouted and you slammed on the breaks, putting the truck into park.

You stuck your head out the window in confusion as the archer jogged towards you. “What is it?” you asked, puzzled, as he came to a stop beside you.

“Look, uh…uh,” he paused, eyebrows furrowed as he cocked his head.

You realized that the man didn’t even know your name. “Oh,” you murmured, a bit embarrassed. “Y/N.”

Daryl nodded. “Look, Y/N, if ya want —  my group, we’re, uh, we’re holed up by the quarry. End of the road here, ya make a left. Head up the mountain. If ya decide not ta’ go ta’ Fort Benning, I jus’ wanted ya to know where we’re at,” he spilled out, almost in one breath. 

You couldn’t hide the shock from your face. That was the last thing you’d except to come out of his mouth. And it was damn tempting. But after your little encounter with Merle…maybe it was best to stick it out alone.

“Thank you. But, I’ll be okay,” you mumbled, barely convincing yourself.

Daryl seemed to see right through you but didn’t comment on it. “If ya change your mind, then. We got food…people…protection,” he added with emphasis. “Ain’t too smart bein’ out here on your own.”

You stopped yourself from asking why he cared so much.

Then Merle’s face popped into your mind. And his “See ya ‘round, darlin’,” echoed in your ear.

“I’m probably safer out here than in a camp with your brother,” you couldn’t stop yourself from spitting out, hearing the venom clearly in your voice.

“He won’t bother ya,” Daryl immediately shot back, resolutely.

“How do you —”

“I’ll make sure of it.”

And you believed him.

Still, you didn’t know him — any of them. And your stubbornness got the best of you. “Thanks for everything.”

Daryl got the hint and nodded once — and you could’ve sworn he almost looked disappointed. You sent him a small wave as he took a step back from the window and then, you began your journey.

You looked in the rearview mirror to find Daryl standing in the middle of the road, watching you drive off. You kept checking the reflection until he was nothing but a speck behind you, before he disappeared altogether. 

As you continued down the road, you couldn’t help but second guess yourself — had you made the right decision? Had you made the smart decision? Were those decisions even the same anymore?

So much had happened today — it was a lot to process. But there would come a time to sit and think and feel. Right now, you had be logical.

There was safety in numbers. There were resources at the camp — resources that you just did not have right now. 

And there was Daryl. He was the first person you’d come across who gave you hope that not everyone left on earth was a prick. You felt okay with him around. Something you hadn’t felt in a long time.

And then, there was Fort Benning. Another good option — if it was still up and running. Military protection, a community, a fresh start…

But you hadn’t come this far just to give up. You knew how to take care of yourself. You could make it another hundred miles.

Sticking by yourself was the smart decision.

The road came to an end a quarter mile ahead — turning right sent you towards Fort Benning, turning left sent you up the mountain, like Daryl said.

Your head was telling you to turn right — to not let some random stranger who saved your life affect the choices you make.

But deep down, you knew this was a decision you had to make with your gut and not your brain.

The truck rumbled beneath you as it slowed, coming to the intersection. You looked in both directions, feeling your stomach flip flop as your heart raced in your chest. You grabbed your necklace, squeezing your parents rings in the palm of your hand.

You’d made it far on your own. But that could change. Life was fleeting in this new world — nothing guaranteed, nothing secured. 

But maybe, just maybe, you didn’t have to do this on your own anymore. You didn’t have to survive alone.

You took a deep, calming breath. 

And then, you turned left.


Chapter Text

You never noticed how many different shades of gray there were.

When a storm rolls in — clouds thick and dark, shape bulbous and threatening — that’s one shade.

When your parents reach a certain age — the hair on top of their heads slowly draining of color, turning from vibrant and youthful, to aged and willowed — that’s another.

But this specific shade of gray was unlike the others. This one was subdued. Dull. Hopeless. 

You figured that must’ve been the purpose when building a prison cell.

The concrete walls were assembled like armor, keeping the brilliance of life away from its occupant, forcing them into a muted existence. 

That’s how you felt in this very moment. 

You were focused on one very specific spot on the wall opposite of you — the spot where the concrete was just a smidgen lighter than the rest of the wall. You wondered why. 

Maybe wear and tear? Maybe mildew? Maybe whoever sat beneath it used to rest their head against that very spot and with time, the back of their head rubbed away the color?

You kept looking, kept guessing, kept ignoring. Because if you stopped thinking about that spot on the wall, then you’d have to acknowledge the pain radiating through your body. You’d have to relive the trauma you’d just been through. 

And you didn’t think you’d be able to handle that.

You could hear whispers from outside the cell, hear words float through the air and bounce off the protective shield you’d built around you.

Post traumatic stress…

Hasn’t spoken a word…

Won’t let me take a look…can’t see what damage has been done…

It was better for you to just observe that spot on the wall. Then everything would be okay.

You heard the steady click of Hershel’s crutches and a second set of footsteps re-enter the cell. Hershel suddenly appeared in your line of vision, pulling a chair in front of you and sitting down, propping his crutches up against the wall. 

The other footsteps belonged to Daryl, who resumed his seat beside you on the bed, the mattress dipping beneath his weight. 

The tension radiating off him was palpable.

Pulling your gaze away from the wall, you locked eyes with Hershel. You hatedthe way he was looking at you. All you had to do was say ‘please stop staring at me like I’m some kind of beaten puppy you just found on the side of the road’ but your mouth wouldn’t cooperate. 

“Y/N, can you hear me?” Hershel spoke, his lips not matching up with the words — like there was an audio delay. He held one finger in front of your face and slowly moved it back and forth, but your eyes simply glazed over as you resumed watching that spot on the wall.

You heard the old man say the word ‘concussion’ but everything after that faded out. 

You were vaguely aware of your skull throbbing, of different parts of your body aching when you twitched, of your stomach feeling as though it was on fire.

“Why the hell can’t she say nothin’?” came Daryl’s gruff voice from beside you, an edge to his words, and some of the fogginess faded — he always had a way of grounding you.

“She’s in shock, Daryl. It’s gonna take some time ’til we figure out exactly what happened here,” Hershel responded, his voice calm and soothing.

You could feel Daryl getting more and more agitated. “I ain’t gonna jus’ sit here an’ do nothin’ while — ” 

“Daryl,” Hershel interrupted sternly, his gaze boring into the archers. “The last thing she needs is ta’ have you flyin’ off the handle. Now, you pull yourself together, boy. I won’t ask ya again,” he finished in a firm whisper, as if you weren’t sitting right there.

You felt some of the fight leave Daryl as he slouched slightly on the bed — from the corner of your eye, you could see him rest his elbows on his knees, sneaking a glance at you every so often.

Hershel reached for you.

You flinched.

Hershel pulled back.

The air got tense once more. 

“Y/N, I’m not gonna hurt you. I need you ta’ let me help,” the farmer murmured patiently, clasping his hands together in his lap.

You slowly nodded and saw Hershel smile — this was some sort of progress, you figured.

He began dabbing a cloth on the side of your face, your flesh stinging from the contact, but you welcomed the sensation — it was making you sharper, bringing a little life back to your eyes. Hershel pulled the cloth away and you saw it was stark red, covered in blood. 

This went on for several minutes on various parts of your body and by the end of it, a small pile of gauze had formed at your feet, each individual piece soaked to the brim with your blood.

You must’ve been in worse shape than you thought. 

The whole time Hershel worked on you, Daryl remained by your side, completely still except for his incessant foot tapping. You knew Daryl better than anyone — he was itching for a fight. The only thing keeping him here was the fact that you needed him.

You wanted to tell him everything — how you were taken, how stupid you felt for blindly running into their trap, how sorry you were that he was the one who found you curled up outside the gate after they brought you back. 

You wanted to tell him everything that had happened to you since you’d been missing. 

Your brain was screaming at you to just open your mouth, to say something, to say anything. But your body wouldn’t cooperate, leaving you trapped like a prisoner inside your own mind. 

Your arms were wrapped protectively around your stomach, a position you hadn’t let up since you’d been let go. Hershel reached for your arms and you flinched, jerking back instinctually. 

Daryl straightened up, hands slightly outstretched, unsure how to help and you wished you could do something about that panicked look in his eyes.

You peeked down at your shirt, noticing the droplets of blood seeping through the material, and tightened your arms further around your middle. Hershel was looking at the same spot, mouth set in a tight line. He shared a worried glance with Daryl, obviously needing to tend to all of your wounds.

You opened your mouth, wanting to explain why no one could ever see what was under your shirt. 

The two men froze, waiting with baited breath for you to finally speak — but no words came out, leaving you to simply snap your mouth shut. 

Things were beginning to appear less foggy, less muddled. The pain was becoming clearer, the memories tangible, and your stomach churned.

The day had started out so normal. How did everything change so quickly?

You stabbed your knife through the chain linked fence and into the brain of a walker pressed up against it. This had been going on for twenty minutes but the dead just kept coming. 

Ever since the Governor attacked, killing Axel in the process, the amount of walkers had tripled — apparently drawn in by all the gunfire that had followed. You grunted as you yanked your knife out of another skull.

It was early morning, most of the group just waking — except for Daryl, who was on guard duty in the watch tower and Rick, Michonne and Carl, who had just left the prison. They decided to go scouting for more weapons and ammo in preparation for the next attack — this time, your group wouldn’t be blindsided.

You turned slightly, glancing up at the archer in the tower. He was pacing the length of the platform, scanning the trees, gripping onto a rifle with his crossbow strung across his back.

As Daryl turned on his heel to pace in the other direction, he shot a look your way— he’d always made it a priority to keep an eye on you. You sent him a little wave, feeling your heart beat just a fraction faster. 

He nodded once in return, scanning the area around you before focusing back on the trees.

You and Daryl had a special bond. 

It was hard to explain and even harder to understand sometimes. It was unspoken. A mutual understanding that the other person’s life meant more than your own. You’d die for the man. Hell, on a couple occasions you almost did. And if not for him, you were pretty sure you’d be six feet under by now. You owed him your life. 

You sighed, forcing your gaze from him and continued working on the fence.

A couple minutes had gone by when suddenly, you’d heard something.

It came from beyond the trees and you could’ve sworn on your life it sounded like…crying?

You paused, lowering your knife to your side as you swung your eyes up at Daryl — he was still patrolling back and forth, clearly having heard nothing out of the ordinary. But as you looked back at the fence, a few walkers began stumbling away from you and towards the trees.

You weren’t crazy. The dead had heard something too.

Just as you were about to call up for Daryl to come check it out with you, the noise got louder and you were positive now that it was someone crying in the bushes outside the fence.

Your stomach dropped as you squinted, trying to see who was out there. The walkers who’d heard the noise disappeared into the trees and suddenly, the person wasn’t crying…they were screaming. 

And you took off.

You were vaguely aware of Daryl shouting your name but he was too far away to stop you. You couldn’t stop yourself from sprinting to the opening of the fence, pulling the gates open, and running head first towards whoever was in peril.

You didn’t think. You didn’t slow. You didn’t hesitate. All you could think of was that someone was in danger and needed your help.

Bursting through the trees, knife up and ready to strike, you scanned the now silent area. “Hello?” you called out, staining your ears for any noise. 

A lone walker limped its way towards you, arms outstretched. You quickly approached it, stabbing your knife through its temple. 

But the second you yanked your weapon from its skull, a blinding pain erupted in the back of your head, the ground came rushing up to meet you, and the world faded away.

A strangled gasp escaped your throat as your pulse skyrocketed.

You turned to look at Daryl, your mouth opening and closing like a gaping fish, and you immediately reached for him.

He wordlessly took your hand in his.

You knew he was uncomfortable with physical touch. But he was even moreuncomfortable seeing you so shook up.

His touch grounded you further.

You squeezed his hand, closing your eyes and taking a breath. His fingers felt rough and calloused wrapped around yours. 

But he squeezed back just as tight.

You stopped struggling.

What was the point? The man was going to do whatever he wanted regardless of how much you fought back. But it sure as hell didn’t mean you were going to break.

The Governor needed information — information about the prison, about your group — information you were never going to give. He could torture you until your last breath and it still wouldn’t change a damn thing. 

And he knew that.

You grimaced, the ropes binding your wrists to the arms of the wooden chair you sat in digging further into your flesh. Blood trickled down the side of your head and down your neck, soaking the collar of your shirt. Your body had gone numb, dull aches and pains radiating through you, spiking every time you shifted. 

The Governor stood in front of you, chest heaving, fingers tapping along the bottle of whiskey he held. The sight of your blood on his knuckles made your stomach churn but you refused to give him the satisfaction of throwing up.

He stared down at you, cold and calculating. “It didn’t have ta’ be like this, ya know? All ya had ta’ do was tell me what I wanted ta’ know,” he murmured lowly, all his ‘southern charm’ long gone. He sighed heavily, taking a long drink straight from the bottle before tilting his head. “Now, what’re we gonna do with you?”

You glared up at him, shrugging casually, forcing yourself not to cringe from the pain that small movement caused. “You could let me go,” you shot back cheekily, feeling your lip split open further as you smiled at the Governor. 

In the next moment, the man back handed you, your cheek stinging from the slap. 

You spit a glob of blood onto the concrete floor, heaving a breath as you turned to face him once more. Suddenly, the Governor slammed the bottle down onto the table beside you, bent down, and clasped onto the tops of your forearms.

“Or I could kill you,” he growled, so close you could smell the whiskey on his breath.

“You could,” you concurred, leveling his stare fiercely, unsure where the sudden boldness came from. “But then my people would kill your people…and then your people would kill my people…and round and round we go,” you singsonged, silently wondering if you’d finally lost your mind. Regardless, you leaned in closer. “Between you and me, I don’t think you’ve got the sack to kill me,” you whispered, lingering on each word. “You’d rather make someone else do the dirty work.”

The Governor scoffed, his one eye squinting at you, the other hidden behind the eyepatch. “You think you’re real clever, don’t ya?” he hissed, his eye tracing every inch of your body, making you squirm in your seat.

His hands dug further into your forearms, the skin beginning to bruise beneath him. You couldn’t help but wince, the pressure grinding the bones in your arm together. 

The Governor laughed, deep and menacing, as he finally stood up, letting go of you. Then, like a lion stalking its prey, he began circling you. “Maybe, just maybe, there’s another way ta’ make you talk.”

His fingers traced up your bicep and over your collarbone as he came to stand behind you, a shiver jolting through your body. He clamped his hands down on each of your shoulders, squeezing them lightly as he brought his lips to your ear. 

“It didn’t work with the farmers daughter, but maybe it’ll work with you,” he jeered, his breath tickling your neck.

A red hot anger coursed through you as you yanked against the ropes, only stilling when he began to laugh. 

“Oh, no, don’t stop now,” he chuckled darkly. “I like it when you struggle,” he whispered as his hands began to slide off your shoulders and further down your chest.

You pushed the memory away, feeling tears spring to your eyes no matter how hard you tried to hold them back.

And then suddenly, someone was storming into the cell, pushing through the group that had suddenly appeared around the entrance.

“What happened?” came a demanding, familiar voice and you let out a sigh of relief. 

Rick.

Before anyone could answer him, he was crouching down in front of you, a shaky breath escaping his lips. He stared at you, eyes deep and distressed and his expression told you that you looked just as shitty as you felt.

“What happened?” he asked again, this time directly to you, his voice much softer.

You couldn’t find it in you to respond, your voice still lost somewhere. Instead, you just lowered your eyes, pulling your hand out of Daryl’s, and wrapped your arms tightly around your stomach once more.

You wanted to disappear. You couldn’t see everyone staring at you, but you could feel them.

Rick gently placed his hand on your knee in an attempt to comfort you, in an attempt to let you know that you were not alone — you were with family

But when you raised your eyes, suddenly it wasn’t Rick kneeling in front of you.

It was the Governor.

And you lost it.

An animalistic scream tore through your throat and before you could stop yourself, you tackled the Governor to the ground. A burst of adrenaline shot through you as you pummeled your fists into the Governors chest, all of your pent up rage being released.

You could feel someone else tugging on you, other screams besides your own, but all you saw was the man who tormented you, his lips turning up into a cheeky grin.

And the Governor laughed from beneath you, his voice echoing in your ears, only fueling your anger.

I like it when you struggle, he whispered, chills running up and down your spine.

You let out another cry, throwing a right hook and connecting with something solid. Your vision was blurred with tears as your shouts turned to sobs, feeling the adrenaline start to wear off, your beaten body screaming at you to stop.

And then suddenly, like a light switch turned on, you realized you weren’t attacking the Governor.

You were attacking Rick.

You froze, your hand raised mid-strike, heart hammering against your ribcage. Gasping, you allowed whoever was grabbing you to finally pull you off Rick and you felt the cell wall press up against your back.

A hand suddenly grabbed your chin, jerking your face forward, and you came face to face with Daryl. 

“Hey, hey, hey…easy, Y/N, easy,” came his calm, gruff voice. 

But his expression revealed that he was anything but calm.

Your eyes frantically bounced back and forth, watching as Hershel grabbed his crutches and stood up while Glenn rushed into the cell to help Rick off the floor. Maggie, and Carol stood outside the door, watching the scene with horrified expressions, unsure what to do. 

“I-I-I,” you stammered, voice cracking from being unused for so long. “I-I didn’t — I didn’t mean…I would never — I —”

Hey!” Daryl barked, forcing you to look at him once more. “I need ya ta’ relax, ya hear me? Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen ta’ ya, alright?” he snapped, his voice hard yet still somehow bringing you comfort.

You took in a shaky breath, one after another, until you felt your heart start to resume its steady pace. Looking past Daryl at Rick, you opened your mouth to apologize — to explain — but yet again, you couldn’t form the words.

“It’s alright, Y/N,” Rick suddenly spoke, answering your unsaid apology, rubbing his jaw gingerly before straightening. “We’re gonna help you, okay? But we need ta’ know what happened.”

Daryl finally released his hold on you and turned around sharply, glaring at Rick. “Now ain’t the time, man. That shit can wait,” he growled, his entire body going rigid.

Rick leveled him with a patient stare. “There might not be time, Daryl. If this wasthe Governor, we need ta’ be preparin’ ourselves for another attack.”

“Ya really think she’s gonna be able ta’ tell us shit? Nearly clawed your damn eyes out jus’ now!” Daryl snarled, starting to pace like a caged animal.

“If this was some kind a message he was tryin’ ta’ send us, we need ta’ be ready for a retaliation,” Rick shot back authoritatively, the ‘sheriff’ side of him coming to light. 

“Ain’t no damn —”

“Rick’s right,” you finally croaked and everyone around you froze, all eyes suddenly on you. You shrunk under their stares as Daryl turned back to face you. 

“What’d ya mean?” he rumbled, his voice softening after seeing how scared you looked.

You gulped, feeling a small part of you shrivel up inside. You never wanted anyone to find out about this. “H-He…he was sending a message,” you whispered, feeling as though your entire body was on fire as you tightened your arms around your waist. 

“What’s the message?” Rick demanded, sharing an uncertain look with Daryl. 

You glanced up at the archer, who’s attention was now laser focused on you. Tears swarmed your vision as you dropped your hands to your sides, toying with the hem of your shirt. “Me. I’m the message,” you murmured, voice barely above a whisper.

Then, you took a deep breath and winced as your slowly raised your shirt.

And there, carved into the flesh across your stomach, was one single word.

Surrender.

 

Chapter Text

The cell was eerily still as you stood there, your stomach exposed, head tucked into your chest. 

You couldn’t bring yourself to look at anyone, although you were fairly certain everyone was getting a good look at you. 

You especially couldn’t face Daryl. He’d never look at you the same after this.

Feeling like everyone got enough of a peek at the Governors message, you slowly rolled your shirt back down, hands hanging loosely at your sides. Still, no one spoke, no one moved, no one breathed.

You squeezed your eyes shut — the silence was almost too much to bear. Taking a breath, you raised your head.

It was suddenly as if the floor had become very interesting to everyone in the room. No one looked at you — maybe they were disgusted? Ashamed? Afraid you’d see how damn scared they were? No one looked at you.

Except for him. Except for Daryl.

His eyes bored into yours, face drawn back tight, expression pale. It seemed like he was made of stone with how rigid his body was — the only sign of life was the slight tremble his clenched fists made at his sides.

Your bottom lip quivered slightly under his stare, feeling incredibly exposed all of the sudden. You ducked your head, slowly wrapping your arms back around your torso — as if that would erase the image burned into everyones memory. 

But when you looked back up, you only saw Daryl’s back as he stormed out of the cell, knocking over Hershel’s chair in the process. Maggie and Carol moved aside as he stalked through the doorway and disappeared from sight.

The cell block was silent for a few moments, when suddenly a loud crash sounded from outside the room, followed by a string of shouted curses from Daryl.

“I’ll get him,” Glenn quickly murmured, rushing out of the cell, Carol right on his heels. 

You could hear Glenn talking to Daryl, asking him where he was going — asking him to calm down. But Daryl just shouted another obscenity at him and then the door to the cell block was being opened and slammed shut, followed by a deafening silence. 

You forced back the tears threatening to spill over. Daryl had every right to leave. He didn’t owe you anything. You didn’t need him to hold your hand through this. You were going to be fine.

But as those thoughts came, you realized they were complete bullshit. You would’ve laughed if you weren’t in so much pain.

You suddenly heard Hershel’s crutches clicking and saw him moving slowly towards you. “Why don’t you lay down an’ lemme take a look at ya,” he soothed, motioning to the bed. 

You sighed. Nothing left to hide. Might as well get this over with. 

Grimacing, you limped over to the bed, biting your lip to stop from crying out as you laid down. 

Rick picked up the chair Daryl had knocked over and placed it by the bed so Hershel could sit down. “I’ll leave ya to it, then,” he mumbled, looking a little lost for words. But before he left, he reached down and grabbed your hand, squeezing it once. You squeezed back gently before pulling away, watching Rick retreat from the cell.

Maggie hovered near the door, arms crossed over her chest. “D’ya mind if I stay?” she asked softly.

You paused before nodding once as she came to sit on the edge of the bed. Her presence calmed you. If anyone knew what you were going through, it was her.

“May I?” Hershel requested, motioning to your shirt. 

You took in a shaky breath, nodding quickly as you brought one arm up and draped it over your eyes, welcoming the darkness. 

You felt Hershel slowly raise your shirt, rolling it up high enough to see the wound while still keeping you covered. He began dabbing the cuts with some type of wet cloth and you hissed from the contact. 

This went on for a couple minutes, the three of you remaining silent except for your occasional whimper.

“Y/N?” the farmer murmured softly as he rolled your shirt back down. You slowly removed your arm, blinking the black spots away as you looked at him. “It won’t scar. He didn’t cut ya deep enough for it ta’ scar.”

You faltered, feeling a mix of emotions. The fact that you wouldn’t be physically scarred was enough to send you into another fit of tears. But the emotional scars…now those wounds wouldn’t heal so quick. 

“Thank you,” you whispered to the old man, your voice still not fully intact. 

Maggie helped you slowly sit up, looking at you with those kind, compassionate eyes. “You should rest. C’mon,” she suggested gently, hooking an arm around your waist and helping you stand. Hershel went to get up, but Maggie placed a hand on his shoulder. “I got it from here, Daddy,” she nodded, a small smile on her face as she looked down at her father. 

You thanked Hershel once more, unable to say more than those two meek words, as the farmers daughter guided you out of the cell. 

The two of you paused near the stairs — you were out of breath, already feeling incredibly winded from just that small venture as you grabbed onto the railing for support. You casted your eyes downward, focusing on controlling your breathing as Maggie waited patiently beside you. 

“Oh,” she suddenly murmured, unhooking her arm from behind you and pulling out something from her belt.

It was your knife.

“Daryl found this outside the gate…must’ve dropped it when…” she trailed off, not needing to finish her sentence. You quickly nodded and took the weapon.

The blade glinted as you turned it over in your hands, feeling the cuts on your stomach burn red hot beneath your shirt…

The Governor stood in front of you once more, wiping the sweat forming on his brow as he took a long swig of whiskey. 

You sat hunched over, a mix of blood and saliva dripping from your mouth as you groaned softly. You didn’t know how much more you could take. Part of you wished he would just kill you and get it over with but no…he wanted to take his time. 

When his threat to ‘have his way with you’ didn’t get you talking, he resorted back to his original tactic, but you could see him losing his patience the more he drank. 

“One las’ time. Tell me what I wanna know!” the Governor barked, tossing the now empty bottle across the room, it shattering against the wall.

You flinched at the sound as you slowly raised your head. Locking eyes with him, you smiled, blood staining the fronts of your teeth. “Go to hell,” you growled, spitting a glob of blood at his feet. 

The Governor wasn’t fazed — just continued to stare down at you as he rolled up the sleeves of his button down now splattered with your blood. “I tried ta’ be nice,” he said simply. “This could’a been real easy.”

“So…you gonna…kill me or what?” you challenged between heaving breaths.

“No…no, you’re not worth the effort,” he sighed casually, making you still. “Ya know what I’m gonna do instead? I’m gonna send a lil’ message ta’ your people.”

And then suddenly, he pounded on the wall twice and the door immediately swung open, two burly men storming into the room, standing on either side of you. You pulled against the ropes slightly, ignoring the pain it brought to your torn skin. 

The Governor came to a halt in front of you, pulling out a large hunting knife. 

Then, in one swift motion, he cut the ropes around your wrists, grabbed you by the hair, and threw you onto the ground. Before you could even get your breath back, the two men were on you — one holding your wrists above your head, the other holding your ankles down.

You struggled against them, a sudden burst of adrenaline coursing through you, but you were too weak to overpower them. The Governor suddenly jumped on top of you, straddling your hips and you froze, your heart pounding against your chest.

Slowly, almost sensually, he began rolling your shirt up high enough so the bottom half of your bra was exposed. You forced back the whimper as it rose to your throat as you wriggled beneath him.

Then, he held the knife to your throat and leaned in until you were nose to nose. “I wanna hear how loud you can scream, sweetheart,” he whispered, making your blood run cold.

And then, he brought the knife to your stomach and dug the blade into your flesh.

It only took you a few moments to realize that the blood curling scream echoing throughout the room was coming from you.

But no matter how loud you shrieked or how hard you struggled, the Governor just smiled.

Someone suddenly grabbed your shoulder from behind and you didn’t breathe, you didn’t flinch, you didn’t think.

You just acted.

Still caught up in the memory, you spun around and slashed your knife down at the person grabbing you. You raised the knife to strike again when suddenly, your stomach dropped.

You weren’t in that basement. You weren’t being attacked. You weren’t with the Governor.

It was Daryl.

A strangled sob rose to your throat as the knife slipped from your hand and clattered onto the floor.

The archer stood in front of you, chest heaving, eyes wild — with an angry red slash mark down his cheek. 

He wasn’t bleeding bad, the knife having just grazed his skin, but you could’ve killed him.

“O-Oh, my god, D-Daryl,” you stammered, your voice near hysterics as you reached out to him but then quickly pulled away. You weren’t stable enough to be around people — first Rick, now Daryl — you needed to be locked up before someone got seriously hurt. 

“Y/N, jus’ take a breath,” Maggie soothed, but you could hear the panic in her voice. 

“I-I-I’m so sorry — I’m…I —” but you couldn’t calm down, slowly backing up towards the stairs. 

“Wait, Y/N —” Daryl quickly spoke, taking a step towards you. 

“No! Don’t! I-I can’t be a-around you. I almost killed you!” you cried out, slowly making your way backwards up the stairs, ignoring your body’s protests. 

“Hold on now, jus’ wait a minute!” Maggie called up to you, but you held out your hands. 

“Just leave me alone, okay?” you pleaded, hissing as you turned around and limped your way as fast as you could up the rest of the stairs and to the cell farthest away from everyone else. 

As soon as you made it into the cell, you gingerly sat on the cot, bending at the waist so your head rested between your knees. The position only skyrocketed the pain but you needed to reign in the panic attack you felt coming. 

You almost killed Daryl. What if you’d slit his throat instead of his cheek? You needed to isolate yourself, for everyone’s sake.

Your heart rate eventually slowed, but you couldn’t seem to stop shaking, couldn’t seem to get rid of that ‘dirty’ feeling soaked into your skin. Your body screamed at you to lay down, but you couldn’t seem to find the energy to even sit up.

You didn’t know how long you sat like that, curled inward, staring down at the dirt and specks of blood caked into your boots.

Suddenly, a light knock sounded. You cocked your head sideways and looked towards the opening of the cell where Maggie now stood. 

You sighed, avoiding her concerned gaze as you gingerly straightened, biting your lip to stop from crying out in pain. 

“Y/N —”

“I’m fine,” you mumbled, wiping the tears staining your cheeks. Maggie just exhaled heavily, making her way towards the cot and taking a seat next to you.

You folded your hands in your lap, staring at the wall opposite you, Maggie sitting in a similar position. Neither of you spoke for a while.

“Y/N?” Maggie asked softly. You could feel her begin to fidget beside you.

“Hm?” you responded, not having enough energy to express more.

“Did —” she stopped short, seeming to struggle for words as she cleared her throat, a bit uncomfortably. “Did he…uh, did he —”

“No,” you quickly murmured. You knew what she was asking and decided to save her the trouble of having to voice it aloud. “No. He didn’t. He said he would if I didn’t start talking. He told me everything he was gonna do to me…but he didn’t,” you finished, voice in a hushed whisper.

Maggie just nodded silently beside you — she could relate. 

A heavy silence settled over the cell. You wanted to be alone. You didn’t trust yourself not to hurt anyone else. But for the life of you, you just couldn’t bring yourself to ask her to leave.

“I pushed Glenn away when it happened ta’ me,” Maggie suddenly spoke, tucking a strand of short brown hair behind her ear. “I pushed everyone away ‘cause I thought it’d make things easier,” she continued, voice soft, eyes far away. “An’ it didn’t.”

You snuck a glance at her, seeing her eyes fill with emotion as she went on.

“I was…so angry. I felt helpless, an’ scared, an’…exposed,” you saw a small tremor rack through her. “An’ I didn’t wanna deal with it,” she sighed, finally looking at you. “I know how bad ya feel, Y/N. But, you’re gonna get through it. An’ the only way ta’ get through it, is ta’ go through it.”

You sniffled, nodding your head absently as you mulled over her words.

“An’ ya don’t have ta’ do it alone,” Maggie emphasized, giving you a pointed look. She reached over and squeezed your clasped hands gently, before standing up. 

Just as she was about to leave, she hesitated, an odd expression on her face that you couldn’t quite interpret. “Don’t push him away,” Maggie finally spoke, so softly you almost didn’t hear it. 

You tilted your head slightly, eyebrows furrowed as you watched her make her way out of the cell. Part of you wanted to question who she was talking about and why she would assume such things, but you couldn’t find it in you to ask.

Maybe because deep down you already knew.

And then, for the second time, Maggie paused. She now stood in the doorway, looking off to the right before shooting you a look over her shoulder. “Ya got yourself a visitor,” she called back, a small smile gracing her face before she disappeared from sight. 

And then suddenly, appearing in her place…was Daryl.

He stood at the doorway awkwardly, staring at you as he shifted back and forth on his feet, hands shoved deep inside his pockets. “Hey,” he rumbled simply, nodding once.

You scoffed lightly at his casual greeting, slightly rolling your eyes. “Hi,” you responded, voice small. A long silence carried over the cell as you stared at one another. The quiet quickly became too much for you. “I’m sorry for almost cutting your face off,” you blurted out, hiccuping slightly. 

Daryl shook his head, the ghost of a smile flirting across his face at your word choice. “M’ sorry for leavin’ like that,” he grumbled, looking down at his feet. 

You nodded, running your fingers lightly over the rope marks imbedded on your wrists. “Where’d ya go?” you asked, trying to be casual.

“Got on my bike. Was ‘bout ta’ drive right ta’ Woodberry. Glenn damn near got himself run over jumpin’ in front’a my bike,” Daryl grunted, scoffing and shaking his head. 

You hummed thoughtfully. “Is your cheek okay?” you questioned softly, twisting your fingers together in your lap.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Jus’ a scratch is all. Ain’t nothin’ but nothin’,” he brushed off, rubbing his cheek almost to prove his point. 

“I could’ve killed you,” you whispered, finally voicing your guilt aloud.

Daryl shook his head. “Ain’t your fault,” he shot back immediately.

“It kinda is,” you pointed out. 

Ain’t your fault,” he repeated, this time more firmly.

“You should go.”

Daryl stilled, obviously not expecting those words to come out of your mouth. You hadn’t really expected it either. You wanted to tell him to stay — that his presence calmed you, that with him here it felt like you could finally take a fucking breath

But all you could think about was slashing him with that knife. 

“Ya want me ta’ leave?” he finally spoke, his voice hard but something in his eyes told you that your words hurt him. 

You swallowed the lump in your throat and nodded, not trusting your voice.

Daryl stared long and hard at you, eyebrows deeply furrowed and the stress in his face made him look much older — like a man who had seen too much and done too little. “I should’a been there,” he grumbled after a long moment of silence.

Now it was your turn to still. You shook your head softly, confusion spreading over your face as the archer continued.

“I should’a been there. I should’a stopped ‘em. But ya were gone by the time I got out’a the gate,” he growled lowly, chewing on the side of his thumb as you absorbed his words. 

“Daryl…” you managed to whisper, horrified that he felt in any way responsible for what happened. 

“M’ gonna kill ‘im. M’ gonna make ‘im pay for what he did,” the archer snarled, his eyes narrowed into slits, hands balled into fists. “Burn the whole place ta’ the ground if I gotta,” he continued, rage seeming to seep from every pore of his body.

You’d never seen him so angry — and it wasn’t the usual hotheaded, short tempered Dixon you were used to seeing. It was a quiet, calm, creeping fury that sent a shiver down your spine. And for the first time since you’d met Daryl, you couldn’t help but feel scared of him.

You knew the archer would never do anything to hurt you, but after the day you’d had, some irrational part of you believed that maybe…maybe he could.

Daryl seemed to sense a shift in you because some of that rage suddenly melted off his face as he took a step inside the cell, watching you with softer eyes.

Grimacing, you pulled yourself to your feet, ignoring the shakiness in your legs.

You needed to leave. And now

It felt like the walls were suddenly closing in on you, the air becoming tighter, wrapping around your lungs like a snake coiling its prey. Your heart was beginning to beat faster and faster, the world tilting before your very eyes. 

And every time you blinked, you could just make out the ghostly image of the Governor smiling back at you. 

“Stop, stop, stop. Just stop,” you suddenly hissed to yourself, bringing your hands to your head, grabbing fistfuls of hair in each palm. You shook your head back and forth, feeling your breathing begin to accelerate. “Please stop,” you pleaded pathetically. You just wanted everything to stop — the flashbacks, the pain, the pounding in your skull.

Vaguely aware of Daryl moving forward, you shuffled backwards, holding both hands out in front of you, your eyes wild and frantic.

“Y/N —”

“I need to — just let me — I need to go,” you spilled out, voice nearing hysterics as you attempted to move around Daryl.

But he matched your footsteps, blocking the exit with his body as he held out his own hands to mirror yours.

“Why don’t ya jus’ sit down for a minute. Ya need ta’ —”

“No!” you shouted, the words bursting out of you before you could even think. “No! I can’t, I can’t. I need to — I need to go, or, I need to —” you tried once again to pivot your way around the archer, but it was as if he was reading your mind, knowing exactly where you were about to step.

“Y/N —”

“No!” you shrieked, this time much more panicked as you clutched your chest. “No! You don’t understand! I have to go! I have to — I have to…just let me out, just let me go, please!” you cried out, feeling a sob rise to your throat. 

You couldn’t calm down. The reality of everything that happened in Woodberry crashing into you like a semi truck and it felt as though you’d never get your breath back again, like this moment would never cease to exist.

And then, you couldn’t take it anymore. 

You charged forward, hellbent on getting out of the cell even if you had to plow the archer over in the process. But you only made it a few feet before you collided into the solidity of Daryl’s body. 

With the rational side of you long gone at this point, you began pummeling your fists into Daryl’s chest. You could no longer contain all of the anger inside you as you began punching and kicking and screaming, completely blinded by rage.

But Daryl just held still and let it happen.

He stood before you as you mentally and emotionally broke down, taking each hit with not so much as even a flinch, allowing himself to be your makeshift punching bag. Your vision was blurred with tears as you shoved against Daryl, your breath coming out in rapid gasps. 

And still, Daryl took the beating.

Eventually, your body began to weaken — your punches slowed, your scream dying out to pathetic whimpers, chest heaving from the exertion. Then suddenly, you felt Daryl’s arms wrap around you, trapping you against his body in a steel, vice-like grip.

You began struggling once more, trying to wriggle out of his grasp, pushing your arms against him to create distance — but he held steadfast. Your whimpers turned into full blown sobs as you finally gave up, collapsing against his chest, the only thing keeping you on your feet being his hold on you.

And so you wept. And wept and wept and wept until all the tears you could muster were out of your body and soaked into the front of Daryl’s shirt. 

Your cries slowly died out, leaving you with red rimmed eyes and a runny nose, still locked in Daryl’s iron grip. 

And he just remained silent. He didn’t say anything — didn’t try to calm you down or offer words of encouragement. Instead, he just held you while you cried and let you feel, his heart thumping steadily in your ear.

You clung feebly onto Daryl as your body weakened further, just about ready to give out. And Daryl, always seeming to be one step ahead of you, gently eased you down onto the cot, unwrapping himself from you. 

You rubbed your eyes, scrubbing the tears from your cheeks and wiping your nose before looking up at the archer. At a loss for words, you decided to say nothing at all. You were too tired to express anything and felt sleep begin to seep through your bones. 

Next thing you knew, you were lying on your side, knees curled into your chest, eyelids heavy. You saw Daryl still hovering near the cot and turned your head to look up at him. “Stay?” you whispered, voice hoarse. 

“‘Course,” he immediately replied, softly. 

There was a moment where Daryl shifted, like he was unsure where he was supposed to go, before he made the move as if he was going to set up camp on the floor.

“No,” you mumbled, patting the bed sleepily as you scooted closer to the wall, turning to lay on your back so there was room for him.

Daryl paused, looking uncertain before he slowly lowered himself onto the bed. Although you laid shoulder to shoulder, hands at each of your sides, your bodies didn’t touch — about an inch of wiggle room between the two of you. You stared up at the ceiling, feeling waves of tension radiate off the archer — like he was afraid to move, afraid to even breathe

You sighed. Daryl may have felt uncomfortable but his presence brought you more sanity than anything else in the world.

Silence settled over the cell, neither of you moving so much as a muscle.

You cleared your throat quietly. “Hershel said it won’t scar,” you suddenly mumbled. You didn’t need to clarify which injury you were talking about.

Daryl froze beside you, like all the breath was suddenly swept from his lungs. 

You continued. “It won’t scar, but I’m always gonna know it’s there, you know?” you admitted, voice breaking. You would’ve cried but all the tears you could muster were gone.

Daryl was silent for a long time, turning your words over in his head. Eventually, he sighed, some of his rigidity fading. “We all got scars, Y/N,” he grumbled and you could hear a tinge bitterness in his voice.

You turned your head to look up at him. “Yeah?”

Daryl grunted once. You focused back on the ceiling. It was quiet for another long moment before he spoke again. “Maybe someday I’ll show ya mine,” he said so quietly you almost didn’t hear it. 

Your heart stilled and broke simultaneously.

Daryl didn’t divulge further on the subject, so you didn’t press the matter. There would be a time and place to learn more about that. Right now, you needed to sleep. 

You sighed, feeling your eyelids begin to droop as you tried to make yourself as comfortable as possible. 

The back of your hand suddenly brushed against Daryl’s and you felt his entire body stiffen beside you, your hands just barely touching. You could’ve sworn you could hear Daryl’s heart hammering against his chest — or maybe…maybe it was yours.

Holding your breath, you slowly began moving your hand closer to his, wrapping your fingers around his calloused ones. After a couple moments of tense silence, you suddenly felt Daryl close his hand around yours.

You exhaled the breath you’d been holding, hearing Daryl do the same as some of the stiffness in his body melted away. 

Your eyes began to flutter closed, curling your body a bit more towards him, soaking in the warmth he exuded.

The trauma you went through wasn’t going to be fixed in the blink of an eye. The physical scars would heal but the emotional ones weren’t going to go away that easy — if ever.

But then, you heard Daryl sigh lightly as he relaxed further into your touch and some of that heaviness in your heart lifted. 

You were going to get through this — you just had to go through it.

Best of all, you didn’t have to do it alone.

You squeezed Daryl’s hand, feeling safe and protected and okay.

Then, right before darkness came, you felt him squeeze back.

Chapter Text

Taking the prison had been easy.

A team of the six strongest fighters in the group — Rick, Glenn, Maggie, Daryl, T-Dog and yourself — had gone hand to hand with the turned inmates and within a couple minutes, your group had killed each and every last biter.

Taking the prison had been easy. But clearing out the bodies…now that was the hard part.

You straightened up, wiping the beads of sweat dripping down your face as you stretched. You’d been hunched over for the past couple of hours, helping drag the bodies littering the courtyard out into the field. 

There was a growing pile of the dead just down the hill, waiting to be transported into the back of a pickup truck and dumped beyond the prison gates. 

But in spite of everything, you were feeling good — feeling positive — for the first time in months. You’d finally found a place where you could truly see a future — in a prison, no less. 

After losing Hershel’s farm to the dead, your group had been toughing it out on the road. And it had been…challenging, to say the least— but your group had survived.

The people around you slowly transformed from a collection of strangers to some kind of semblance of family and you’d started to form really solid relationships with everyone in the group.

Well…not everyone.

You turned around and scanned the field. T-Dog and Glenn were hefting a rather large walker a couple yards ahead of you. Maggie was out by the fence, stabbing her knife into the brains of the dead that lined the gate. Carol stood in the watch tower, rifle in hand as she looked out towards the trees.

Then, your eyes landed on the only person you’d been unable to make progress with. 

He was in the midst of hauling a biter into the bed of the pickup truck. The man was like a well oiled machine, not having slowed since the group started clearing the field. His face was set in its standard ‘stony and detached’ expression and you wondered if he’d ever smiled in his entire life. 

You sighed audibly. Daryl was the only person in the entire group you couldn’t seem to connect with — and not for lack of trying. 

When you’d first joined the group in Atlanta, Daryl had kept his distance, only speaking to you on a ‘need to know’ basis. After the group had moved on to Hershel’s farm, you felt the archer start to open up a little more. And when Sophia had gone missing, it was you and Daryl out there every single day looking for her. 

You’d lost your little sister a couple months back and it’d felt like your personal responsibility to bring Sophia home — almost in a way to honor the sibling you hadn’t been able to save.

Over the course of the week Sophia had been missing, you felt something flourish between you and the archer. Daryl ended up being not as standoffish as you’d assumed and you surprisingly found yourself opening up to him. A strange, sort of wonderful friendship formed.

And then you found the little girl.

And everything changed.

You were completely devastated that day at the barn. You hadn’t known Sophia long, but she was sweet and innocent and didn’t deserve to die the way she did. You’d put so much time and hope into finding her alive, the possibility that she was already dead hadn’t even been so much as a thought.

Your heart broke most for Carol. You knew all too well the power of grief — the way it worms its way into your heart…your lungs…your bones. It lies on your chest, threatening to crush you with its burdensome weight. It fogs your brain, wiping away rational thoughts and feelings so all you can do — all you can breathe — is loss.

And Daryl…Daryl pushed himself away.

You tried on a couple different occasions to talk to him — you would’ve even settled to just sit with him silently, as he had done for you before. 

It wasn’t good for the soul to be alone for too long. 

But you were met, time and time again, with nothing but coldness. 

The more time went on, the more distant he became, until he just avoided you altogether. You never understood what happened — why Daryl detested you so much or what you did to deserve it. 

Eventually, all that hurt you felt melted into an anger, burning deep inside you.

If Daryl wanted nothing to do with you, fine. You didn’t need him either.

You felt a fresh wave of anger wash over you as you glared in Daryl’s direction. The archer stood in the bed of the truck, motioning for Glenn and T-Dog to bring the walker they carried over to him, before helping them lift the dead one into the truck.

What a prick.

Clenching your jaw, you watched as Daryl jumped effortlessly out of the truck, his toned arms glistening with sweat, distracting you from the fact that you thought he was a prick.

Suddenly, Daryl’s gaze swiveled over to you. Inhaling a sharp breath, you quickly turned your back to him, bending down and grabbing the ankles of the walker below. 

You tried to ignore the heat you felt rushing to your cheeks. 

“Need a hand?” a voice suddenly rang out. Glancing over your shoulder, you watched T-Dog jog towards you

“Yes, please,” you sighed with relief, moving over so T-Dog could grab one ankle. Together, you continued the trek down the hill with much more ease.

“How many we got left?” T-Dog asked, slightly out of breath.

“This is the last of them,” you grunted, nodding towards the body.

“Jesus, ‘bout damn time,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Ya know what I could go for right now?”

The corner of your mouth quirked up. “Oh, do tell,” you urged, desperate to think about anything besides the task at hand.

A grin spread across his face. “A cheeseburger.”

You practically moaned at the thought of digging into one of your all time favorite foods. “With extra cheese,” you added, feeling your mouth instantly start to salivate. “And bacon.”

“That’s my kinda girl,” T-Dog teased, nudging you with his elbow. You grinned, laughing softly as you approached the truck.

“How can you guys even think about food right now?” Glenn suddenly groaned, catching the tail end of the conversation.

“What? All this hard work isn’t making you crave meat?” you retorted sarcastically, swatting away a fly that flew near your face.

“Pretty much the opposite,” he shot back, looking a little queasy surrounded by all the bodies.

You scrunched your nose up, surveying the back of the pickup and nodding in agreement.

Then suddenly, Daryl came into view on the other side of the truck — the archer’s stony expression unreadable as he glanced at you. A wave of awkward silence passed, Glenn and T-Dog sharing a puzzled look. 

“Let’s load ‘em up,” T-Dog declared, nodding towards the last walker you’d just brought down.

Daryl just grunted once, finally pulling his gaze from yours. You exhaled heavily — you hadn’t even realized you’d been holding your breath. 

You watched from the side as T-Dog and Daryl scooped up the body, rolled it into the bed of the truck and shut the tailgate. T-Dog stepped back, wiping the sweat from his face with the hem of his shirt. “Y’all good ta’ dump ‘em? I told Rick I’d help him figure out a map of the cell block.”

“We’re good. Thanks for the help, T,” you smiled, speaking for the group as you reached out to give his shoulder a light squeeze. T-Dog shot you a friendly wink and gave the boys a quick wave before he headed back towards cell block C.

You turned around and caught a glimpse of Daryl watching T-Dog walk away, his eyes darkening as he chewed on the side of his thumb, before his gaze swiveled over to you. 

What was this guys deal? You were getting real sick of being under his constant glare, of getting the silent treatment, of walking on eggshells around him. How could he treat you like this and it not affect him?

Feeling all that pent up anger start to boil, you opened your mouth to tell Daryl exactly how you felt, but Glenn suddenly spoke up. “We should get goin’ — it’s gonna be dark soon,” he pointed out, looking up towards the sky.

Daryl simply grunted as he strode to the drivers side, pulled himself inside the truck and closed the door without a word. Glenn caught your eye, giving you a slightly helpless looking shrug. 

You ground your teeth together as the truck roared to life. “Let’s get this over with,” you muttered, hopping into the truck after Glenn, slamming the door shut with more force than necessary.

Daryl steered the truck to the front entrance where you saw Maggie open the gate, allowing the three of you to pass. She waved as you drove by, a smile spreading over her face when Glenn waved back. You peeked over at Glenn, feeling your heart swell at the look of pure adoration on his face.

You let your head fall back against the head rest, turning your face towards the open window, soaking in the feeling of the breeze tickling your skin.

Sighing, you watched the mass of green pass by, the late afternoon sun shining through the trees. The air was quiet except for the gentle roar of the engine and the sound of rocks crunching beneath the tires.

A few moments later, Daryl pulled the truck off the main road and down a hidden path that led to the makeshift walker burial ground.

The truck came to a stop beside a growing pile of dead bodies. The smell was immediately overwhelming — the heat only intensifying the scent of rotting flesh.

You slid out of the truck, Glenn close behind. “You’d think by now we’d get used to the smell,” he groaned, making a sound of disgust as he waved a hand in front of his face. 

You nodded in agreement, rounding the truck. Daryl had already opened the tailgate and was in the process of pulling out the first body. You tried to ignore the feeling of the archer watching you approach.

The three of you worked silently and efficiently, rolling the dead from the truck and carrying them over to increasing mound of bodies. 

The sun was beginning to set, the heat finally letting up, allowing you to breathe easier. There were only a couple walkers left to dump when Glenn suddenly spoke, standing in the back of the truck. “I know what I want,” he said, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the crook of his elbow.

You paused, bent over at the waist, hands on your knees. “What?” you exhaled heavily, looking up at him in confusion.

“You and T want cheeseburgers,” he clarified, grunting as he rolled the next body onto the ground with a thud. “I want a triple chocolate sundae with chocolate syrup and whipped cream,” he heaved between breaths, a grin spreading across his face.

You laughed softly, straightening up. “And extra sprinkles,” you added, hearing your stomach rumble at just the thought.

Daryl, who had been dragging a body towards the enormous pile, came stalking back over, not having said a word since he’d left the prison grounds.

“What about you, Daryl?” Glenn asked, hopping down from the truck. “What’s somethin’ you want?” 

The archer paused, thrown off by the question. He glanced at you for a moment and something flashed through his eyes you couldn’t quite interpret. But a moment later, it was gone, replaced by that coldness you knew all too well. 

“Ta’ get this damn job done,” he grunted with finality, climbing into the truck to grab the last remaining body.

Glenn’s face fell slightly at his answer — or lack of. 

You rolled your eyes behind the archers’ back. “I’d even settle for a Snickers bar,” you quickly spoke up, locking eyes with Glenn, giving him an encouraging smile.

“Snickers, huh?” Glenn retorted, smirking at you as he began dragging the body he’d rolled out of the truck.

“My favorite candy bar,” you murmured, stepping back as Daryl rolled the final walker from the truck, it landing in a heap at your feet.

Glenn hummed in agreement as he slid the body into the pile. “I used to —”

All of the sudden, a loud groan sent the three of you into high alert as you scanned the area. Daryl jumped out of the truck and landed beside you just as a cluster of biters emerged from the trees.

You heard Daryl mutter a curse as he jogged around the truck to grab his crossbow from the backseat. Glenn came to stand beside you, knife in hand.

An arrow suddenly whirled past your head and imbedded itself into the brain of the walker closest to you. You glanced over your shoulder at Daryl, who was already reloading his bow. 

“I’ll take right side,” you murmured to Glenn, taking your knife out of the sheath you kept strapped to your thigh.

“I’ll get left,” he nodded, and with that, the two of you sprung into action.

You grabbed the nearest biter and slammed your knife into its head, yanking it out forcefully. Heaving a breath, you eyed the next two walkers coming towards you.

Shifting your weight, you waited until one was close enough before you threw out a sharp kick, knocking out the biters kneecap. In one swift motion, you grabbed it by the hair and sunk your knife deep into its forehead, all the way up to the hilt. 

But when you tried to pull the weapon out, you realized that the blade had broken off inside the walkers head.

“Shit!” you exclaimed, your stomach dropping. 

And then all of the sudden, the second walker tackled you to the ground.

You cried out in pain as the side of your head slammed against something sharp. Gasping, you turned over onto your back as the biter clawed at you, its hunger for flesh fueling its frantic movements.

You wriggled under its weight, desperately trying to shove it off. Just before the walker could tear into your flesh, you braced your forearm against its neck, stopping it mere centimeters from your throat.

Your arm shook beneath the weight of the biter, black spots dancing in your vision. But before you could do anything, the walker was being wrenched off your body.

You inhaled sharply, finally able to take a breath. And then you saw Glenn, grabbing your hands and helping pull you to your feet. 

“Are you okay?” he demanded frantically, grasping your shoulders. 

You nodded, still trying to catch your breath. “I-I think so,” you sputtered, checking yourself over for any scratches. 

“You’re bleeding, Y/N,” Glenn pointed out, eyebrows furrowed in concern as he looked at your head.

“I-I just bumped my head. I’m fine,” you waved off, ignoring how badly your hands were shaking. You quickly looked behind Glenn and saw Daryl standing over the walker that had attacked you, his own knife imbedded in its skull. “Daryl, thank —”

“The hell’s the matter with ya!” Daryl suddenly snarled, eyes wild. 

You faltered, confusion spreading over your face. “What —”

“Ya almost got yourself killed! Ya can’t even kill two god damn geeks without almost gettin’ bit?” he growled, approaching you quickly, pushing Glenn to the side. 

You took a few steps back automatically, his rage sending a shiver down your spine.

“Daryl, calm down, man,” Glenn jumped in, placing a hand on the archers chest. 

“Get off me!” Daryl barked, knocking Glenn’s hand away before laser focusing on you. “How god damn stupid can ya be! Why don’t ya got another weapon on ya or somethin’? What if me an’ Glenn weren’t here, huh? What would ya have done then? Ya can’t be so god damn stupid, Y/N!”

You’d never heard him speak this much in all the time you’d known him. But your shock immediately melted into fury at Daryl’s words. Your vision turned red, any appreciation you had for the archer dissipating. “I’m not stupid,” you growled lowly.

“Let’s just calm down, guys,” Glenn tried again but both you and Daryl were too far gone.

“M’ sick of havin’ ta’ save your ass! I ain’t dyin’ for you!” he spat, beginning to pace back and forth. “Ya gonna get yourself killed an’ I ain’t gonna be there ta’ stop it! Ya —”

Hey!” you shouted, feeling all that pent up rage burst out of you in that one word, stopping Daryl mid stride. “I am not stupid,” you hissed, enunciating each word clearly, venom lacing your voice. 

Daryl just stared at you, seething silently — nostrils flared, face red, chest heaving — and you felt a sudden surge of emotion come over you. 

But before your angry tears could betrayed you, you turned on your heel and stormed away.

“Hey, wait up!” Glenn called after you, jogging to catch up. “What’re you doing?”

“Walking back,” you snapped, keeping your determined pace.

“Y/N, c’mon. It’s almost dark. Let’s just go back,” he reasoned, grabbing onto your arm but you quickly shook him off.

“I need air,” you bit back, feeling guilty about your tone — it was misplaced anger, but you couldn’t help it.

Glenn sighed, slowing down behind you. “You don’t even have a weapon…” he called after you, voice trailing off dejectedly. 

But you were too damn stubborn and too damn angry to care.

So you kept walking.

You wiped angrily at the tears gliding down your cheeks, forcing yourself to take a breath — you refused to cry over the archer. He didn’t deserve the tears.

Daryl had the reputation of being a hot head but you had never seen him that pissed off. And having all that anger directed solely at you was…well, horrible. It wasn’t like you purposefully let the walker attack you. He had no right to speak to you like that.

And if it was that big of a deal ‘saving your ass’, then he shouldn’t have intervened. If you were such a burden, he should’ve let you get bit — he probably would’ve been downright thrilled to not have to deal with you anymore. 

You felt a fresh bout of tears spring to your eyes and quickly took a breath, biting the inside of your cheek.

But before you could take another step, a low growl sounded and sure enough, one lone biter came ambling out of the bushes ahead. You automatically reached for your knife before you remembered that you had no weapon.

“Damn it,” you murmured as the walker began limping faster towards you. You spotted a larger looking stick and scooped it up, holding it in front of you like a sword.

But just before the walker lunged, an arrow suddenly shot through the side of its head.

The walker dropped and your blood ran cold.

“What the —” you spat, but was cut off by the sound of leaves rustling.

You spun around and there you saw Daryl Dixon, striding through a thicket of branches.

Your shock melted into a familiar anger, your previous conversation echoing in your brain. “What the hell, Daryl? I could’ve gotten it,” you growled, nodding towards the walker he’d taken down.

Daryl just grunted as he brushed past you, barely acknowledging your existence as he made his way towards the biter.

You gritted your teeth together to stop from cursing him out right then and there. “Hello?” you called after him exasperatedly, waving your hands around. “I said I could’ve gotten it,” you repeated, more firmly.

“Ya ain’t got no weapon,” he countered, yanking the arrow out of the walkers skull with a huff.

“I have a stick,” you muttered, holding the stick up towards him pointedly. Daryl just scoffed, focusing on reloading his crossbow. You rolled your eyes, tossing the stick to the side. “Why are you following me?” you snapped.

Daryl quirked a brow at you incredulously. “Ya can’t jus’ go stormin’ off like that,” he scolded, as if you were a child. 

Your cheeks flushed red. “Oh, because ‘I’m stupid’, right? That’s what you said, wasn’t it?” you shot back, throwing his words back at him.

Something flashed through the archer’s eyes as he lowered his head, shaking it ever so slightly. “Y/N -”

“Seriously, Daryl, why the hell are you even here?” you cut him off. For the past couple of  months, he’d barely said two words to you and now he thought he could just come around and chastise you?

“Someone’s gotta make sure ya don’t get yourself killed,” Daryl rumbled, his words strangely lacking the harshness from earlier.

But you just couldn’t hold the anger at bay any longer.

“You’re joking, right?” you breathed, laughing humorlessly. “Since when do you give a shit about me, huh?”

Daryl remained quiet, fiddling with the strap of his crossbow, his silence only making you angrier.

“I mean, come on, let’s be honest here,” you continued, ignoring your heart hammering in your chest. “It’s not like you actually care whether I live or die. In fact, I’m sure your life would be a hell of a lot easier if I wasn’t around to begin with!”

The archer’s head snapped up at that comment, eyes ablaze. “Hey, I never —”

“Ever since the farm, you’ve turned into a real asshole, you know that? I just don’t get it! One day, everything is fine and the next, it’s as if I’m the god damn plague! Like you can’t even stand being in the same room as me! I just don’t get it, Daryl! I mean, what the hell did I do wrong?” you demanded, starting to feel that emotion from before rise.

“Y/N —”

“And for a while there, I actually thought we were starting to be friends,” you steamrolled over Daryl’s attempts to speak up, the floodgates open. “I mean, was that all in my head? Am I really that stupid?”

“I —”

“We all lost something that day at the barn,” you cut him off, keeping your fists clenched to stop from shaking. “But you changed after that — after Sophia. And you pushed me away and I don’t know if some part of you blames me — like I didn’t look hard enough or something. Or maybe I just remind you of the fact that we searched eight god damn days for a girl who was already dead. Or maybe…maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just that awful to be around,” you felt yourself rambling, spewing out reasons you thought might’ve caused the divide between you two. You took a breath. “Every night before I fall asleep, I think of her, you know that?” your voice broke off, your anger dimming. “I think of how it happened. If she heard footsteps and thought it was one of us coming to her rescue. If she ran towards the noise, thinking she was finally going to be saved. If she screamed for her mom while she was dying,” the words spilled out of you. “And I think of how scared she must’ve been,” your voice was distant now, sharing things you hadn’t spoken a word of until now. “And I wonder if there was something more I could’ve done,” you inhaled a shaky breath. “That guilt is mine and I’ll live with it for the rest of my life but you know what? No matter what shit I was dealing with, I never took it out on you,” you said with finality, hating how vulnerable you sounded. 

And that was when you realized you weren’t angry. 

You were heartbroken.

You locked eyes with Daryl, his expression unreadable, but his eyes…his eyes told an entirely different story. He stood so still — as if made of stone — you weren’t even sure he was breathing. And as you stared at him, you didn’t see the hotheaded, short tempered, uncaring redneck you’d come to know.

You saw someone just as broken, just as scared, as you were.

“I’m sorry,” you suddenly spoke, a slight tremble in your voice. “I’m sorry for whatever I did to make you hate me so much.” You stared down at your boots, swallowing the lump in your throat.

The truth was, no matter how angry Daryl made you, no matter how horrible he had been to you the past few months…you still cared about the man. 

And all you wanted was to be at peace with him.

“Look, we don’t have to be friends — hell, you don’t even have to like me,” you scoffed, laughing bitterly before taking a breath. “But if we are going to live in this group together, you have to respect me.”

A heavy silence settled over the woods as you and Daryl stared at one another. Then, with nothing more left to say, you turned to leave. 

“Y/N?” Daryl’s voice suddenly rang out, stopping you in your tracks.

You glanced at him over your shoulder.

The archer shifted his weight back and forth as he rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “I don’t hate ya,” he finally mustered, looking a little lost for words.

A sad smile ghosted over your lips as you nodded absently. “Could’ve fooled me,” you said simply. And with that, you continued your trek out of the forest, leaving Daryl behind.

It was dark by the time you reached the prison. 

Glenn had been pacing the length of the front gate when you approached. The moment he spotted you, he began ripping you a new one for walking off like you had. After you apologized, 
he enveloped you in a tight hug — Glenn wasn’t one to stay angry. 

Daryl came storming through the entrance a couple minutes after you, ignoring both you and Glenn as he passed.

You sighed. Clearly your ‘little talk’ changed nothing. You and Glenn headed up towards cell block C together. 

You’d only made it halfway up the hill when suddenly, the revving of an engine drew your attention. A few moments later, a single headlight shone ahead as Daryl came down the hill on his motorcycle, speeding past you and Glenn, and out the front gate.

You watched him drive away until he was just a speck in the darkness. A lump formed in your throat as he disappeared. 

“C’mon, Y/N,” Glenn said softly, grabbing your elbow, gently tugging you forward. 

“I don’t get it, Glenn,” you whispered as the two of you continued your trek.

Glenn sighed beside you. “Daryl’s complicated,” he managed. “He’ll come around. He always does.”

You shook your head sadly, unable to have the same faith in the archer. Things would never change and you were just going to have to accept that.

The cell block was quiet when you entered — most of the group off in their respective cells, turning in for the night. Maggie was sitting on the steps that led to the second floor but jumped to her feet once she saw you.

“Y/N, you’re bleeding,” she murmured, coming to stand in front of you. You’d forgotten all about the cut on your head and reached up to touch the dried blood. Before you could say anything, she whisked you away to the makeshift infirmary.

The cut wasn’t deep — just a little antiseptic and a bandage and you were good as new. Maggie seemed to sense something was wrong, but didn’t say anything, which you appreciated. You weren’t in the mood to talk.

You thanked her for her help and then hurried off to your cell, wanting to curl up in bed and forget about today. 

After stripping off your dirty, sweat soaked clothing, you slipped into something clean and laid in bed, your body sore from the day of labor. But no matter how much you craved sleep, your mind just couldn’t rest.

Where had Daryl gone off to? What was he planning on doing? Going off by himself was dangerous and reckless.

But no matter how much you wanted to be angry at him, all you could feel was fear — what if he never came back? What if he got hurt out there and needed help? What if —

You felt someone grab your shoulder and suddenly jolted awake, breathing heavy as you shot upright — you hadn’t even realized you’d fallen asleep. Glenn stood above you, his hands up as he looked at you apologetically.

“Hey, sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you,” he murmured as you sighed, rubbing the sleep from your eyes. “Rick needs you in the watch tower.”

You exhaled heavily, stretching out your tired bones — you’d totally forgotten about your shift. “Thanks,” you mumbled, voice thick with sleep as you swung your legs off the bed and stood. The events from earlier came seeping into your thoughts and a pinprick of worry hit you. “Hey Glenn, is…is uh…”

“He’s back,” Glenn interrupted, reading your thoughts. “He got back like an hour ago. He’s fine,” he continued, putting your mind at ease.

You nodded. “Thank you,” you whispered, gently squeezing Glenn’s arm as you slid past him and out of the cell.

It was still dark when you got outside. You wrapped your arms around yourself as you strode down the field and to the watch tower. Grabbing the rifle propped up against the door, you slipped inside the tower and clambered up the stairs.

You took a deep breath as you pushed open the entrance that led to the outdoor platform. Slinging the rifle over your shoulder, you leaned your elbows against the railing, squeezing your eyes shut.

For a moment, everything was simple. The breeze tickled your skin. Crickets chirped in song. Fresh air filled your lungs. 

But the quiet didn’t last long when the door abruptly swung open. You spun around, hands automatically reaching for the rifle.

Your body stilled when you realized who it was.

Daryl.

The door slammed shut behind him as you stared at one another. You suddenly felt very uncomfortable and twisted your hands around the rifle’s strap, unsure what to say. Daryl seemed just as self-conscious and rubbed the back of his neck.

You hated the way things were and you were afraid that maybe too much had been said back in the woods. You sighed. “Daryl —”

“I got ya somethin’,” he suddenly spoke, voice soft.

You faltered, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “What?”

“I, uh,” Daryl grumbled, grabbing something from his back pocket. “Here,” he murmured, holding it out to you.

Slowly, you reached out and grabbed the object. You brought it closer to your face, using the moonlight to see what you held.

It was a Snickers bar.

You looked up at the archer. “You got me a candy bar?” you whispered. 

Daryl nodded slowly, looking everywhere except at you.

“That’s why you left before? To get me a candy bar?”

The archer paused, before nodding once more.

“Why?” you pressed, still in shock at his gesture. 

Daryl suddenly looked at you uncertainly. “Well, ‘cause before…I, uh, thought ya said…when ya was talkin’ with Glenn I thought…ya don’t have ta’ have it, I jus’ thought…” he babbled, struggling for words.

“No, no,” you quickly interrupted. “I love these. I’m just…I’m just surprised, I guess,” you finished honestly.

He shrugged, clearing his throat awkwardly. “Think of it as a peace offerin’.”

A small smile graced your lips and you couldn’t help but feel your eyes begin to tear. “Thank you,” you whispered. Maybe there was hope for you and Daryl after all. 

And with that, Daryl cleared his throat once more and started to leave.

“Daryl?” you called after him, stopping him just before he opened the door.

“Hm?”

You swallowed the lump in your throat, feeling incredibly vulnerable all of the sudden. “Do you want half?” you offered softly, holding up the Snickers. 

Daryl paused, looking a bit torn as he shifted his weight, before ultimately nodding. You swung the rifle around so it laid against your back as you sat down, your legs dangling off the side of the platform. The archer slowly sat beside you, your bodies not touching, but close enough where you could feel heat radiating off him.

The two of you sat silently as you opened the candy, taking a moment to breathe in the scent of chocolate, before you broke it in half and offered him one. Daryl inhaled the candy in two bites, sloppily licking the residue off his fingertips while you nibbled at yours, savoring each bite.

“M’ sorry,” Daryl suddenly spoke, breaking the silence as you finished chewing your last piece. 

You paused. You’d never heard Daryl apologize for anything in all the time you’d known him. “For being a jackass?” you offered good-naturedly.

Daryl scoffed. “For bein’ a jackass,” he agreed, but his words seemed heavy. 

“It’s alright,” you sighed, resting your chin on the bottom rail.

“Nah, it ain’t. But imma make it right,” Daryl responded, determination lacing his voice. You peeked over at him, taken aback by this man sitting beside you. 

And for the first time since the farm, you felt like you had your ‘old Daryl’ back.

“How about we just start over?” you proposed, turning to face Daryl head on. You took a breath and held your hand out in front of you, waiting to see if he would accept.

Daryl eyed your hand cautiously, before slowly wrapping his hand in yours. “Daryl,” he grunted softly.

And as you shook the archers hand, the smell of chocolate still seeping from your fingertips, you felt a weight being lifted from your chest. “Nice to meet you, Daryl. I’m Y/N.”

Chapter Text

The sun was just beginning to melt into the earth, dusk taking its place.

The group was huddled around a flickering fire, sitting amongst each other in silence. Morale was at an all time low. Hershel’s farm now belonged to the dead, the weather was turning cold, and there was no end in sight — no safe haven, no home base, no sanctuary.

You sighed heavily, watching the flames dance in front of you.

Your eyes flittered over the fire, landing on Daryl, who sat directly across from you, a faraway look in his eyes. The two of you had grown close over the past couple of weeks, stemming from Sophia’s disappearance. You both had put everything into finding the little girl after she had gone missing. But even after her untimely fate had been revealed, you’d still found yourselves leaning on one another for support.

Daryl processed loss very differently from you. You understood loss — you knew it was something you needed to deal with, even if you didn’t want to. Daryl, on the other hand, had chosen to isolate himself from everyone, including you. He became very angry — even angrier than usual. All he wanted to do was shove his emotions away and soldier on.

The night after Sophia was found, Daryl packed up his belongings and moved his things all the way across the other side of Hershel’s property, far from the rest of the group. You tossed and turned all night, worried about Daryl being so far away from everyone else. It wasn’t safe to be alone in this world and solitude wasn’t good for anyone.

So you decided to follow suit.

You marched across that field, payed the confused archer no mind, and began setting up your tent. Daryl had yelled at you, told you to ‘leave him be’ and ‘get lost’ — along with some other unkind words. But you stood your ground.

Because Daryl needed you.

And he just as easily could’ve picked up his belongings and moved further away from where you were.

But instead, he stayed.

You never asked him to talk about his feelings. You never pressured him to open up. You just sat with him quietly by the fire.

And with each day that passed, Daryl got a little less angry.

You couldn’t deny you felt something for the man. It wasn’t something you could explain or really understand even — you just felt it.

But it wasn’t like anything was actually going to happen between you. You weren’t even sure if Daryl felt anything ‘romantic’ towards you at all. He didn’t exactly strike you as the ‘relationship type’. And on top of that, Daryl had seemed distant ever since the farm fell — particularly distant towards you.

You sighed, dragging yourself away from the thoughts about the complicated man across from you.

And then, as if he was reading your mind, Daryl’s eyes flickered over to meet yours and you quickly looked away, feeling your cheeks flush.

Suddenly, you heard footsteps approach and glanced over your shoulder, spotting Rick coming over to join the group. He took a seat beside you, exhaling heavily, looking more tired than he had in a long time.

He rubbed a hand wearily over his face, his fingers pausing for a moment over the stubble growing on his chin.

“You okay?” you murmured, turning your focus on Rick.

“Perimeter set up?” he pressed, ignoring your question as he glanced around the makeshift campsite uneasily.

You sighed. “We tied a bunch of empty cans together with some string we found. Strung them up between the trees. If any geeks come our way, we’ll hear them,” you nodded reassuringly.

“Good,” he stated, nodding his head slowly. “That’s good…” he trailed off, eyes distant.

“You okay, Rick?” you asked again. Rick simply shot you a look that said he was anything but okay. You sighed once more. “Hey,” you whispered, catching his wandering eye. “We’re okay. It’s gonna be okay.”

Rick held your gaze for a moment. “It’s not safe out here.”

“I know,” you murmured. “But we’ll find somewhere that is. I know we will.”

Rick looked torn all of the sudden. “But Lori…an’ Carl…oh god, the baby…” he trailed off again, voice low so only you could hear his worries.

We’re gonna be okay,” you stated, much firmer this time. “I know the timing of all this sucks. And I know you’ve got a lot on your plate. But you’re not alone in this, Rick. You are doing the best you can.”

Rick scoffed lightly. “Not everyone thinks so,” he muttered, a tinge of bitterness to his words as he nodded in the direction of his and Lori’s tent.

“Your wife is pregnant. In the middle of the god damn apocalypse,” you pointed out, almost incredulously, the concept unfathomable when spoken aloud. “Trust me when I say, you are doing the best you can.”

Rick sighed, looking more and more weary as the moments passed. You and the sheriff had always had a strong relationship. But after the farm, Lori’s pregnancy, and everything that went down with Shane, you became one of the few people Rick whole-heartedly trusted. You’d become his confidant — he knew when he came to you for advice, you’d give it to him straight. No bullshit.

“Go kiss your wife and get some sleep. You look like shit,” you urged, your tone teasing as you shot him a small smile.

Rick rolled his eyes good-naturedly, some of the previous stress melting off his face. He reached out and placed his hand on top of yours, squeezing gently. Your smile grew in return, squeezing back, before the sheriff pushed himself to his feet and made his way to the tent Lori and Carl were in.

You sighed, turning back to face the fire, but you suddenly saw Daryl stand abruptly and storm off into the woods alone. Confusion spread over your face as you glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed.

The rest of the group remained unfazed, apparently having missed the archers exit.

With a huff, you pushed yourself to your feet, jogging off in the direction Daryl had left. You spotted him ahead, his body blending in with the growing shadows, and quickened your pace. “Hey!” you called after him.

But he kept walking, pretending he didn’t hear your shout.

You rolled your eyes as you finally caught up to him. “What’s going on?” you asked, matching his steps.

Daryl threw a look in your direction and grunted. “Nothin’,” he huffed, looking annoyed.

“Obviously that’s bullshit,” you muttered, calling his bluff.

“Why don’t ya go on an’ find someone else ta’ bother?” he snapped, waving you away angrily.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong so I can leave you alone?”

“Have ya always been this irritatin’ or am I jus’ realizin’ this now?”

“No, I’m pretty sure I’ve always been this irritating.”

“Jus’ go on! Leave me alone!” Daryl barked, clearly through with your teasing.

You fought back the urge to slap him upside the head as you sped up and planted yourself in front of him. He came to a screeching halt, narrowing his eyes as he stared down at you. “Look, you’ve been acting weird ever since the farm,” you spilled out. “Did I do something to piss you off? Because I’m sorry if I did, Daryl. Truly.”

Daryl just heaved a breath, his expression telling you that his limited patience was running thin.

Your eyebrows furrowed. “You can’t just keep all this shit in. If something’s bothering you, it’s okay to talk about it. You can’t bottle everything up and just expect it to fix itself. I know circumstances aren’t ideal right now and I also know how much you hate this sappy shit. But I hope you know I’m here for you. And that you can talk to me about things.”

Daryl was quiet for a long moment, when suddenly, he clenched his jaw and locked eyes with you. “What’s goin’ on with you an’ Rick?”

You faltered, his words not fully registering at first. “Sorry, what?”

Daryl huffed, looking even more irritated. “You an’ Rick. I seen the way ya are with him. An’ him with you. What’s goin’ on there?”

Your mouth open and closed like a fish, unable to form the words to express how confused you were. But then his question registered, his accusation that maybe you and Rick were more than just friends burning a hole in your heart, and you saw red. “What the hell are you talking about? Me and Rick? Are you serious right now?” you snapped, feeling your face flush with anger.

Daryl remained silent, some of his ‘bravado’ fading.

“Rick is married. To Lori. Who is pregnant,” you spat out. “Do you honestly think I would do that to her? She’s one of my best friends here. Is that really the kind of person you think I am?” you demanded.

Daryl faltered, uncertainty flashing through his eyes as he shifted back and forth. “I jus’ thought —”

“There is absolutely, one hundred percent, nothing going on between me and Rick,” you cut him off, stating your words clearly so there would be no miscommunication. “Unbelievable,” you hissed, shoving past Daryl so you could get back to camp.

“Ya know, yer the one who followed me out here!” Daryl called after you.

You stopped dead in your tracks, spinning around to face him. “Well, I wouldn’t have if I knew you were going to accuse me of something so ridiculous.”

“I seen the way ya look at him,” Daryl shot back, hellbent on this idea that you and Rick were together.

You could’ve screamed you were so frustrated. “I don’t ‘look at him’ like anything! Why the hell do you care anyways?” you hissed, unable to stop the bite to your words.

“I don’t,” Daryl snapped back, his eyes now guarded.

“Oh, well that was super convincing,” you deadpanned sarcastically.

“I said I don’t care,” he growled, taking a step towards you.

“And I call bullshit,” you shot back, refusing to stand down as you stood toe to toe. You hated fighting with Daryl, especially over something as stupid as this, but you couldn’t just stand there and let him think you had feelings for someone else in the camp — someone that wasn’t him.

Then a thought struck you, sending your nerves into overdrive, your heart beginning to pound faster against your ribcage. “You’re right though, you know. There is someone here I have feelings for,” you managed to squeak out, swallowing the lump in your throat as you waited for him to catch on.

Daryl shifted slightly, his expression rigid as he regarded you cautiously. “Then why the hell ya out here with me?” he snapped, clearly wanting to be done with this conversation.

You let out a frustrated growl, throwing your hands up. “Because it’s you, you idiot!” you exclaimed, your disbelief at the archers obliviousness overriding any feelings of humiliation in regards to your sudden confession.

Then, before you could think twice, you placed your hands on either side of Daryl’s head and pulled his face down to meet yours, kissing him square on the lips.

And you poured everything into that kiss — all the pent up feelings, all the passion, all the loss, all the times you wished you would’ve kissed him and didn’t.

But something didn’t feel right.

That was when you realized that Daryl wasn’t kissing you back.

Your eyes shot open as you pulled away, your face mere inches from his. He was in pure shock — his body stiff, face frozen, eyes wide and confused staring back at you. And you were mortified.

You immediately let go of him, taking a step back, cheeks turning a deep shade of red as you fumbled for words. “I-I’m…oh my God, Daryl, I’m so sorry,” you stammered.

Then, with tears springing to your eyes and nothing more to say, you turned away, humiliated with yourself and the irrevocable damage you just caused.

But you didn’t even make it two steps before you felt Daryl’s hand lock around your wrist and yank you backwards, whipping you around so you stood face to face. Then before you could even get your breath back, Daryl slipped his hand behind the back of your neck and pulled you closer, swooping down to kiss you again.

You were caught off guard for only a second, before the moment took over. You slipped your arms around the archer, balling the material of his leather vest into your fists. Daryl’s hands slid down to wrap around your waist, pulling you closer into him so every part of your bodies touched as the kiss deepened.

After weeks of dancing around each other, after so many nights you lay awake wondering, every feeling, every desire, every urge was being put into this one single moment. Into this one single kiss.

And then Daryl pulled away, only slightly, your lips just barely touching as your bodies heaved for air. You made a soft noise in protest, the spaces he’d once filled feeling incredibly empty. But the archer simply tilted his head down so your foreheads touched, the two of you standing like that for a few moments as your breathing finally evened.

“We —” you cleared your throat, heart still beating rapidly against your chest. “We should get back.”

“Yeah,” Daryl whispered, his voice husky. “Yeah, we should.”

But neither of you moved. Neither of you spoke. Simply content to just stand in each others arms, gazing at one another as the sun finally dimmed, leaving you in a sea of darkness.

And you’d never felt so fearless in your entire life.

Chapter Text

This was it.

This was the end.

The man in front of you was swinging his blood soaked baseball bat around, a cheeky grin plastered on his face as he droned on and on. His words were muffled, the blood pounding through your ears making the world muted as you tried to ignore Abraham’s mutilated body beside you.

You instead turned to look at Daryl who kneeled on the other side of you, hunched over in pain, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Every fiber of your being screamed at you to reach out and touch him…to hold him…to feel his arms wrapped around you…

“Hello?” a hand was suddenly being waved in your face and you jumped, your head snapping up to look at Negan who now stood in front of you. A wry smile spread across his face. “Welcome the fuck back ta’ Earth, doll face. Thought we lost ya there for a second.”

Fighting back the shiver that ran down your spine, you narrowed your eyes challengingly. You could sense Daryl tensing up beside you, apprehension radiating off him.

“Are ya fuckin’ mute or somethin’?” Negan inquired, his tone light, but something in his eyes shifted. “Speak.”

You remained silent — partly just to spite him, partly because you were too damn scared to say anything at all.

Negan quirked a brow, clearly intrigued with you. “Well shit. You sure are one tough nut ta’ crack, aren’t ya?” he mused, his eyes wandering your face. “Maybe I can’t make ya talk…” he murmured, features darkening. “But I sure as shit can make ya scream.”

He suddenly raised his bat high above his head, just moments from swinging it down onto your skull…

But then movement to your right drew your attention, and before you could stop him, Daryl was launching himself at Negan, tackling him to the ground. You lost sight of the archer as several different men intervened, blocking your view of the scuffle as you jumped to your feet. A pair of strong arms wrapped around your middle, holding you in place as a broken sort of wail pushed past your lips.

The other members of your group were crying out in protest, shifting anxiously, desperately wanting to jump in and help but afraid of the consequences.

In a matter of seconds though, the situation was defused. Negan pulled himself to his feet, wiping the dirt off himself, a wicked gleam in his eye as he watched Daryl get dragged away.

“Get him back in line,” Negan ordered, slightly out of breath as he prowled towards you.

But you kept your eyes glued on Daryl’s, the men that flanked either side of him holding him upright next to you.

“Hold the fuck up,” Negan suddenly breathed, coming to a halt in front of you. Using his bat, he motioned between you and Daryl. “Well I’ll be damned…you two? Are y’all…a thing? Ya gotta be shittin’ me!” he exclaimed, that same easy smile sliding back onto his face as he waggled his eyebrows. “Ya’ll ever get a bit ‘freaky-deaky’?”

You gnashed your teeth together, turning to glare at Negan, every bone in your body yearning to stab him in the face.

“Ya sure are a fuckin’ beauty, ya know that?” he mused, eyeing you up and down as he took a step towards you. “The fuck ya doin’ slummin’ with him?” he jerked his head towards Daryl, whose chest was heaving as he struggled against the men holding him. “I sure as shit bet ya take his damn breath away,” he sighed, his smile growing. “Kinda like —”

Without warning, Negan reeled back, swinging his bat directly into Daryl’s stomach. A scream escaped your lips as Negan ripped the bat away, tearing flesh and cloth as the archer fell to the ground, curling inwards.

Negan raised his bat once more, this time over Daryl’s head.

“No!” you cried out as you finally wiggled an arm loose, elbowing the man who held you in the face. The man instantly released you with a grunt, holding onto his now broken nose as you threw your body on top of Daryl’s.

And then you waited for the pain…but it never came. Your heart hammered against your ribcage as you glanced up, noticing how Negan now casually stood above you, his bat resting against his shoulder.

He whistled lowly, smirking down at you. “Ain’t that sweet,” he murmured softly, slowly crouching down. Daryl groaned beneath you as he shifted, using one arm to push you back so that he now laid in front of you, a last ditch effort to protect you. Negan just snickered darkly, clearly amused. “Y’all are meltin’ my fuckin’ heart, ya know that? Each willin’ ta’ lay your life on the line for the other,” he sneered. “I’m gonna have lots a’ fun with you two,” he whispered so no one else could hear.

You swallowed the lump growing in your throat, gripping onto the cloth of Daryl’s shirt, feeling a slight tremble rock through him.

“But here’s the thing,” Negan continued, raising his voice for the rest to hear as he stood up with a huff. “We had — not one — but two acts of disobedience here. I mean, look at Garth’s fuckin’ face. That shit ain’t never gonna be the same,” he pointed out with a chuckle, the man you elbowed glowering at you, his nose twisted and bloody.

“Jus’ kill the bitch,” Garth growled, spitting out a glob of blood.

“No, no, no. Ya don’t kill that. Not ’til ya try a little,” Negan disapproved, shaking his head. “And anyways, that’s not how it works. Now, I already told you people the first one’s free. Then what’d I say? I said I would shut that shit down! No exceptions,” he stated, his smile growing wider, like he could feel the fear spreading. “Now, I don’t know what kind of lying assholes you’ve been dealing with, but I’m a man of my word. First impressions are important. I need you to know me,” his voice softened as he slowly lowered his bat, scanning the group. “So…back to it!”

Then he turned on his heel and swung the bat down onto Glenn’s head with a sickening crack.

The screams around you seemed distant. The spot of dirt you trained your eyes on blurred in and out. The color in your skin seeped into your bones, leaving you as pale and cold as the dead around you.

It wasn’t until Daryl’s hand wrapped around yours that you felt the world come rushing back.  

You blearily looked around your surroundings — the sun was rising…Rick, Negan and the RV were missing…Maggie was hunched over sobbing…and Glenn was…Glenn was gone.

You felt your chest tighten as you forced yourself to look away, finding Daryl’s eyes instead. He sat beside you, one arm wrapped tightly around his middle, face pale, eyes distant. You gently reached towards him, your limbs feeling heavy as you grabbed his arm and pulled it from his stomach. He silently watched as you lifted the hem of his shirt, taking in the damage done.

“Daryl…” you croaked softly, feeling your stomach churn. Bits of open, bloody flesh were splayed across his stomach from where the barbed wire tore into. Dark bruises were already starting to form across his abdomen. And each time he inhaled, he winced. “Why…” was all you managed to whisper, too tired and too grief-stricken to say anything else.

Daryl lowered his eyes, rolling his shirt back down, gritting his teeth together from the movement. “Had ta’,” he murmured.

You felt a stray tear snake its way down your cheek. “But he could’ve killed you. Is that what you want?” you uttered quietly, afraid of the answer.

Daryl’s head snapped up, his gaze wandering yours for a moment. “I don’t wanna die,” he finally rumbled, his eyes igniting with emotion suddenly. “But I would die for ya.”

A soft cry escaped your lips as you reached out and took his hand in yours, squeezing tightly. You leaned in to rest your forehead against his, uncaring of the mass of strangers with guns surrounding you or the uncertainty of your fate.

But as Daryl reached up to gently cup the side of your face, you heard the distant rumble of the RV making its return.

 

Chapter Text

You coughed into the sleeve of your arm, fighting the shiver that wracked through your body. As you pulled your arm away, something on your sleeve caught your eye.

Blood.

You gently wiped at your lips, your fingers now stained red. A feeling of dread spread through your body. It was only a matter of time before you ended up like the others. The infection had to stop spreading before it took out the rest of your people.

“Y/N?” came a gruff voice.

You jumped, not having heard someone arrive, and blearily looked up from your bunk. Daryl stood at the entrance of your cell, a bottle of water in one hand.

“Shit,” he murmured, eyebrows furrowing as he took in your weakening state.

“That bad, huh?” you groaned softly, your remaining energy dwindling.

Daryl didn’t respond. He instead walked in, sitting down beside you.

“No,” you protested weakly. “You’ll get sick.”

He shook his head. “Hershel said if I ain’t sick by now, I ain’t gettin’ sick at all.”

You hummed, wrapping your arms around yourself. “Lucky you,” you said, attempting to smile, but falling short.

“Yah, lucky me,” he muttered sarcastically, his words laced with bitterness as he watched you fall into another coughing fit.

It felt as though your insides were being slowly ripped apart inside of you — a searing, red-hot pain shooting through your stomach. Daryl clenched his jaw, looking incredibly helpless as he watched you struggle for air.

“Drink,” he demanded after the attack died down, unscrewing the top of the water bottle and holding it out to you.

“No,” you heaved between breaths.

Daryl shot you a confused look, scooting a fraction closer to you. “Ya need water,” he rumbled, pushing it closer to you. “Drink.”

No,” you repeated firmly, hunched over in pain. “Don’t waste it on me.”

“Y/N —”

“Daryl, I need you to do something,” you interjected, turning towards Daryl, grimacing from just that small movement. You paused, taking a breath. “I…I need you to kill me,” you whispered.

Daryl stilled, looking as though he’d turned to stone, his entire body rigid. “What?” he spat through gritted teeth.

“You heard me,” you murmured hesitantly.

“No.”

“Daryl —”

“No.”

“Please —”

“Ya ain’t thinkin’ straight. ‘Sides, me an’ a couple others are leavin’ now ta’ find some medicine an’ —”

“It’ll be too late —”

“Ya can’t ask me ta’ do this.”

“I know,” you nodded, feeling your eyes well up. “I know it’s not fair to ask you this but…please…I’m too scared to do it myself.”

Daryl then jumped to his feet, starting to pace back and forth like a caged animal. “Yah, ya right. This ain’t fair,” he seethed.

“The infection can’t spread, Daryl. It’ll wipe out this entire prison,” you reasoned, fighting back another cough. “I’ve seen what happens when people die from this and I…I just can’t…” you shivered, remembering the blood and suffering of those who didn’t survive the sickness. “I don’t want to die like that.”

“Ya ain’t dyin’. Period,” Daryl shot back firmly, halting in front of you.

A sad smile ghosted over your lips. “You can’t stop this from happening, Daryl.”

“Watch me,” he challenged, a newfound determination in his demeanor.

“Daryl —” you attempted to stand, but as soon as you rose, the world tilted beneath you. Your head suddenly felt heavy as you struggled to remain upright until your legs gave out beneath you.

But just before you hit the ground, Daryl’s arms wrapped around you. You whimpered weakly, feeling the archer swoop you off the ground and gently lay you back in bed.

“What happened?” you mumbled, words tangling in your throat as you looked towards Daryl with blurry eyes, your body slowly shutting down.

He crouched down beside you, pushing the hair back from your face. “Ya jus’ hang on, Y/N. Ya hear me? Ya hang on ’til I get back,” his words were stubborn, but you could hear a slight tremble in his voice as your eyes began to close. “Ya ain’t dyin’, girl. Not a damn chance.”

Just before sleep came, you felt Daryl press a faint kiss onto your forehead.

And then the world faded.

Chapter Text

It happened so fast.

One minute, Y/N had been laughing — one of those carefree, sort of ‘caught off guard’ laughs that always managed to send Daryl’s heart racing a fraction faster. She’d looked so calm, so peaceful. She’d been looking at him — eyes soft and round, the corners of her lips turned up in an affectionate smile. It was a rare sight and Daryl couldn’t seem to pull his eyes away, determined to memorize every inch of her expression and commit it to memory before it faded.

They’d been scavenging for supplies, deciding to venture out just a couple extra miles from their usual perimeter. Y/N, Glenn and himself made up the supply run team — they were in desperate need of food, water, and weapons if they stood any chance of defending the prison and taking down the Governor. They were nearing the end of their run, stopping to search one last market to hopefully add to their meager finds.

But the market had already been cleaned out.

Morale was low. Tensions were high. Yet still, they combed through the store — partly to search for any hidden goods, partly because they were just becoming that desperate. Taking the extra twenty minutes to scavenge wouldn’t hurt anybody.

It happened so fast.

The three had split up, deciding to divide and conquer, figuring that covering more ground in a shorter amount of time was the smartest idea. But the moment Y/N ventured just out of Daryl’s eyesight, he felt that usual pit in his stomach grow and ended up meandering in the same direction she’d left.  

Daryl turned the corner of the aisle she’d gone down and found his gaze unwillingly drawn towards her fluid movements, watching as she pulled her locks up into a loose ponytail, her hair seamlessly slipping through her fingertips. He watched as she crouched down, eyes pensive, brows furrowed as she searched for any supplies left behind. When she stood, her lips turned downward, disappointed in the ransacked market, Daryl wished he could take her in his arms and reassure her that they were going to be okay.

“Hey, bodyguard,” Y/N’s voice broke through his thoughts, teasing him playfully after noticing his appearance.

Maybe his hidden concerns weren’t so hidden after all.

Get it together, asshole, he chastised himself, feeling embarrassed. “Uh, find anythin’?” he grumbled quickly, ducking his head down, pretending to suddenly be interested in the metal rack beside him so she wouldn’t notice the tips of his ears reddening.

“Nope,” she sighed softly, taking a couple steps closer to him. “I’m getting really worried,” she whispered, wide eyes boring into his.

“Don’t be,” Daryl immediately replied, suddenly aware of how close she was standing to him, the heat radiating off her body melding with his own. He swallowed the lump growing in his throat. “We jus’ gotta be smart. Don’t need guns ta’ win a war. We got the people an’ we got the heart. That’s all we need.”

Y/N stared at him for a long moment before a smile broke out across her face, a giggle slipping through her parted lips. “Did you just come from the Hallmark aisle, D?” she chuckled, covering her mouth with her hand as her laughter grew.

“Shut up,” Daryl grumbled, although he could feel the corner of his mouth quirk up as he watched her laugh.

“Yes sir,” she saluted him in mock seriousness before her expression lightened and she nudged him gently in the ribcage. She then slipped by him, the tightly crammed aisles of the grocery store providing little space as their bodies grazed one another.

Y/N paused merely a fraction of a second as she passed, her eyes flashing up towards Daryl’s, and he could’ve sworn time stood still for a moment. He heard a soft, subtle intake of breath slip past Y/N’s lips and found his gaze drawn towards the sound before his eyes snapped back up towards hers. He watched her cheeks flush a light shade of pink as she lowered her gaze, the corner of her mouth lifting before her bottom lip slipped between her teeth.

But then time found its footing and the moment passed. Y/N’s fingers ghosted over the exposed skin on his forearm as she moved by him to roam the rest of the aisle.

It happened so fast.

“Anything on your end?” Glenn’s muffled voice suddenly echoed from the opposite side of the market, interrupting Daryl’s thoughts.

“Place’s been practically licked clean,” Y/N called back, huffing a breath and placing a hand on her hip, turning her attention back to Daryl. “What’d we think about that strip mall a couple miles East? Haven’t checked that area out yet,” she offered with a shrug, expression pensive.

Daryl cleared his throat, shaking away any thoughts besides scavenging for supplies. Now wasn’t the time for fantasies. “Worth a shot,” he hummed lowly.

“Hear that, Glenn?” Y/N shouted, tapping her fingers against her thigh as she waited for his response. But a long moment of silence passed and Daryl suddenly felt a pinprick of unease. Y/N’s head cocked to the side as she shot Daryl a wary glance. “Glenn?” she called once more, a bit louder, but still…nothing.

Daryl immediately slipped his crossbow off his shoulder, hurrying towards Y/N, who suddenly unsheathed her knife and turned to leave the aisle. But Daryl quickly grabbed her elbow, halting her movements. She opened her mouth to protest, but he held a single finger over his lips, urging her to remain quiet. Stay, he mouthed silently.

Her brows furrowed as she shook her head vehemently, a stubborn look crossing her features before she moved to continue forward.

But Daryl simply tightened his grasp, pulling Y/N closer to his chest. “Don’t,” he murmured, giving her a fierce look. “Ain’t safe. Stay here an’ stay quiet,” he whispered.

Y/N looked as though she was about to object, but then a look of surrender flashed across her face and she nodded, allowing Daryl to conceal her behind one of the shelving units. He gave her a reassuring nod before he slipped away, feeling his pulse begin to speed up.

With his crossbow armed and ready, he crept down the aisle and began making his way towards the opposite side of the market, keeping his footsteps light, his breath imperceptible. His eyes scanned each aisle he passed, on the lookout for any sign of Glenn or unwanted company. He sidestepped a shattered bottle, shards of glass splayed out along the floor and continued his search.

Something felt off. Something felt wrong. And Daryl had a horrible feeling that things were about to take a grisly turn.

It happened so fast.

He crept towards the edge of the store, pausing for just a moment to readjust his grip on his weapon, finger steadily hovering the trigger. He took a deep breath, turning down the final aisle, stepping out into the open and swinging his crossbow into view.

And what he saw sent a wave of horror through him.

Glenn was on his knees, facing Daryl, with a gun pressed to the back of his head.

“Hey there,” the man holding the pistol jeered, sending a wave with his other hand in Daryl’s direction. “Nice of ya ta’ finally join us.”

Daryl glowered at the man, his glance darting between the stranger’s sneer and Glenn’s alarmed expression. “Drop it,” he growled, his finger twitching closer to the trigger.

“Tough guy, hey?” the man mocked, shoving the barrel of the gun closer to Glenn’s head, eliciting a sharp hiss from him. “Well, unless ya wanna see what the inside a’ your friend’s head looks like here, I suggest ya lower that bow.”

Daryl glanced down at Glenn, who faintly shook his head in protest. “What’d ya want?” the archer demanded, trying to bide his time.

“Look, if ya ain’t gonna follow the rules, then we can’t play nicely,” the man sighed, shrugging his shoulders indifferently.

Daryl noticed the stranger’s eyes dart to something behind him but before he could turn around, a blinding pain erupted through the back of his skull. A grunt escaped his lips as he dropped to his knees, his crossbow slipping through his fingers as he grabbed the back of his head.

Next thing he knew, someone was gripping a fistful of his hair and yanking his head upright. But before he could get his breath back, he felt a foot connect with his ribcage, effectively knocking the wind of out him as a sharp yelp slipped out. His vision blurred as he splayed his hands out in front of him, the cool tile sharpening his focus as he concentrated on regaining the ability to breathe.

“Nice piece ya got here, Robin Hood,” a different voice murmured, bending down and grabbing his crossbow, whistling lowly as they began circling around him.

“You two work for the Governor?” Glenn suddenly demanded, purposefully attempting to draw the attention off Daryl.

“The Governor? Ain’t no more scumbag politicians out here, boy. We don’t work for no one. Jus’ the good Lord as I live an’ breathe — ain’t that right, Billy?” the first man preached as the second man hacked up a glob of phlegm and spit it on the floor just centimeters from Daryl’s hand.

“That’s right, Wade,” Billy mused, continuing his circling as Daryl frantically sought a plan of attack.

“We been trackin’ ya fine folk since that last town ya hit,” Wade spoke once more. “Pretty damn selfish of y’all ta’ take everythin’ an’ leave nothin’ for the rest a’ us.”

Billy paused behind Daryl, shooting a crooked smile towards his partner. “Damn straight,” he jeered, kicking Daryl’s leg with the toe of his boot. “So what we gon’ do ‘bout that, Wade?”

Daryl saw a menacing smile slip over Wade’s features as he grabbed a fistful of Glenn’s hair and yanked his head back. “Y’all gon’ hand over your supplies, first off,” he ordered, shooting Billy a dark look before his eyes settled over Daryl’s furious expression. “Then, ya gon’ bring us that fine piece a’ ass y’all been travelin’ with. An’ then we’ll be on our merry way.”

Suddenly, Daryl felt his blood boil. A low growl tore through his chest. “Go ta’ hell.”

Wade’s smirk grew. “Have it your way, then,” he shrugged before whistling loudly. “C’mon out, girl,” he shouted, his eyes never leaving Daryl’s. “Which one a’ your boys should we kill first, huh? The Asian or Robin Hood? Your choice!” he sneered, scanning up and down the aisle for Y/N’s appearance.

But the store remained deathly still. Daryl felt his heart slamming against his ribcage, praying that Y/N had the good sense to make a break for it when she had the chance. Now, all he had to do was figure out a way to get Glenn and himself out of the line of fire.

“Alright, alright! I’ll give ya a countdown an’ then I’ll make the choice for ya — I’ma gentleman, ain’t that right?”

“That’s right, Wade,” Billy retorted, a giddy laugh bubbling out the hillbilly as he shoved the tip of Daryl’s crossbow against the back of his skull.

“Hey, hold on, let’s just —” Glenn tried to reason, but Wade just moved his pistol against the side of his head, silencing him.

“3!” he shouted, waggling his eyebrows at Billy, shifting eagerly back and forth on his toes. “2!”

“Enough!” Y/N’s voice broke through the store before Daryl suddenly heard a grunt and felt the crossbow being pulled away from the back of his head. The archer twisted around and spotted Y/N standing behind him — she had Billy on his knees with her blade pressed against the hollow of his throat. Her eyes were wild, expression scared and frantic as she surveyed the scene in front of her.

Daryl felt his chest constrict, his gaze snapping back towards Wade, who looked as calm as ever, his eyes traveling the length of Y/N’s body before a sly grin slid over his features. “There’s my girl,” he quipped, shooting a wink in her direction.

“Move away from him,” she demanded, noticing how Glenn was still being held up. From an outsider’s point of view, she sounded strong, she sounded dangerous. But Daryl knew her — really knew her — and he could tell by the slight shake in her voice, the white-knuckled grip she had around the hilt of her knife, the way her eyes bounced between his and Wade’s — that she was terrified.

And Daryl wanted nothing more than to make these pricks suffer for that.

He shifted back and forth from his crouched position on the floor, wanting to make a move for his crossbow that’d clattered a couple feet away from him — but so long as Wade held a gun in his hand, the three of them were in danger. Any sudden movement could set him off. And Daryl wasn’t about to let Y/N orGlenn take a bullet for him.

“C’mon, Wade!” Billy stammered, swallowing the lump in his throat as Y/N pressed the knife harder against his flesh. “Kill the bitch!”

Wade tsked his tongue disapprovingly. “Ya done an’ got yourself into quite the predicament, Billy boy. Gettin’ your ass handed ta’ ya by a girl, no doubt,” he scoffed, his eyes locking with Y/N’s. “How’s about I make ya a deal. I’ll trade ya. Robin Hood an’ the Asian walk free —”

Y/N’s brows furrowed but Daryl already knew where this offer was going.

“— but I get ta’ keep ya,” he finished, a disturbing smile creeping over his features. “My girl…” he singsonged.

Daryl saw red. An animalistic roar tore through him and before he realized what he was doing, he was jumping to his feet. “Ya ain’t doin’ shit, ya slimy, son of a —”

“Daryl, stop!” Y/N shouted, watching as Wade whipped the gun from Glenn’s head and pointed it at the archer. “Stop!”

Daryl froze, her cries halting his attack as he spotted the pistol aimed at his heaving chest.

Wade chuckled, shaking his head slightly, thoroughly enjoying the events unfolding. “Easy, tiger,” he soothed Daryl, only making his rage grow. “Don’t wan’ get caught up in the crossfire, now do ya?”

“Ya —”

“Daryl, don’t,” Y/N snapped, predicting his next move before he could make it. “Let them go and then we’ll talk, okay?” she turned her attention towards Wade. “Or I’ll slit your friend’s throat,” she growled deeply, her threatening words even surprising Daryl.

But Wade just scoffed, unfazed. “Do it.”

Y/N faltered, clearly not expecting that response. Daryl balled his hands into fists at his sides, unable to look away from the pistol still pointed at him. Things were about to get ugly, he could feel it in his bones.

“Wade!” Billy protested wildly.

“Go on, sweetheart,” Wade urged, ignoring the pleading man. “Let’s see what my girl can do.”

Y/N huffed a breath, pressing the knife harder against Billy’s throat, just enough to spill a drop of blood. “Don’t make me do this,” Y/N warned, calling his bluff.

“Wade, c’mon, man! Please!” Billy hissed, voice wavering.

But Wade’s smirk simply grew as he sighed, an odd expression crossing his features. “Well, if you won’t,” he shrugged. “I will.”

It happened so fast.

Without another word, Wade aimed his pistol at Billy and pulled the trigger. The force of the bullet blasting into Billy’s stomach sent him flying backward, knocking Y/N clean off her feet and onto the ground with a crash.

Wade swung the barrel of the gun back towards Daryl, finger gracing the trigger as he aimed for his head. But then from his kneeling position, Glenn suddenly kicked his leg backward and knocked Wade off balance. Daryl instantly threw himself at the man, tackling him to the ground, grabbing his wrist and fighting for control of the pistol. Another shot rang through the store, the bullet lodging into the concrete wall as the two men scuffled for the weapon, grunting from the exertion as Glenn joined the fight, pinning down the man’s other hand.

With the help of Glenn, Daryl was able to overpower the stranger, unfurling his fingers from around the gun’s handle and sliding the weapon away. Daryl felt a swell of rage course through him, his vision turning red, his blood pounding in his ears as he began pummeling the man beneath him. Wade’s sickening words played on repeat in the archer’s mind, his intentions for Y/N especially, and his fists slammed harder into the man’s face.

He felt a sickening crack beneath his knuckles as Wade’s left cheekbone gave way and shattered beneath his skin — only then did Daryl stop his attack, stumbling to his feet, fighting for control of his breathing. Wade groaned, gurgling a mixture of blood and saliva as he squeezed his eyes shut.

But then…he started laughing.

The damage done to his face ended up twisting his laughter into a mix of grunts and groans and coughs, the side of his face that wasn’t caved in turning up into a crooked smile as his eyes slit open. “Ya think…my girl…will still think I’m good lookin’ like this?” he slurred muddily between heaving breaths, another pained, disturbing laugh wheezing out of him.

Daryl balled his bloody hands into fists. “That ain’t your girl,” he growled, throwing one last brutal punch at the man, effectively knocking him unconscious. “That’s my girl,” he muttered under his breath, wincing as he stretched out his bruised knuckles.

Glenn stood on the other side of the man, staring down at his mangled face with a mix of disgust and horror etched into his features. But Daryl ignored him, moving instead to scoop up Wade’s astray gun before running over to where Y/N had been taken down.

“Y/N!” he shouted, feeling his stomach drop when he realized that Billy’s motionless body laid over Y/N’s, completely covering her frame from view. “Shit,” he growled, dropping to his knees and hefting Billy’s body off to the side, a weight lifting off his chest when Y/N sharply inhaled and shot up. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, easy.”

Y/N’s breaths came out in short gasps as she placed a hand over her heart, locking wide, frightened eyes with Daryl. “Are — are you okay?” she demanded shakily, placing her hands on either side of his face as she frantically surveyed his features.

Daryl nodded, placing his hands over her own and gently removing them. “M’ fine, Y/N. All a’ us,” he reassured her, jerking his head towards Glenn who stood guard over Wade’s beaten body.

Y/N peered around Daryl, exhaling heavily once she realized that neither of them had been hurt. “Thank God,” she sighed, squeezing her eyes shut. “I-I heard that second gunshot and — and, I don’t know. I-I thought something had happened and I couldn’t move and— and I don’t know,” she whispered, running a shaky hand through her hair. “I thought I’d lost you,” she finished, her words so soft Daryl wasn’t even sure he’d heard them right.

“Ain’t that easy,” he smirked, attempting to hide how damn scared he’d been just a few moments ago.

“You okay, Y/N?” Glenn called from down the aisle, his face masked in concern.

She nodded once, her lips curling into a tight smile. “I’m solid,” she replied as Daryl pulled himself to his feet, outstretching his hand towards her. She reached up and wrapped her hand in his, allowing him to help her slowly stand up. Daryl couldn’t help but hover slightly, the previous encounter setting his nerves on end, wanting to protect her from further trouble.

“Guys, we should get out of here,” Glenn continued, anxiously peering through the store’s front windows. “Those gunshot’s are gonna attract every geek from miles around.”

“You’re right,” Y/N nodded, exhaling heavily before her brows furrowed and she began scanning the floor. “Hang on, let me just find my knife. I dropped it somewhere,” she murmured to herself, spinning around in a circle as she searched.

Daryl crouched down, checking underneath the metal shelving units for her blade. But then suddenly, Glenn’s panicked voice broke through the silence. “Shit, I see some!” he hissed, unsheathing his own knife as he grabbed his strewn pack and slid it over his shoulders, getting prepared for their escape.

“Damn it,” Daryl growled, shoving Wade’s gun into the waistband of his jeans as he jogged to grab his crossbow, which had been tossed to the side after Y/N ambushed Billy. “We gotta go,” he called to Y/N from over his shoulder, training his eyes downward as he cocked his weapon.

It happened so fast.

Daryl heard movement before he saw it — he heard a soft grunt…he heard the slight scraping of metal…he heard the squeak of a boot being dragged across the tile…

But by the time Daryl spun around, he was too late.

All he could do was watch in horror as Billy launched his blood-soaked body at Y/N, tackling her to the ground with a crash before raising his arm and plunging her missing knife into the soft flesh of her thigh.

Chapter Text

Daryl didn’t think.

He felt the logical side of himself shut down and pure animal instinct take over as he aimed his crossbow at Billy’s head and pulled the trigger without a second thought. He felt no sympathy as his bolt lodged itself into the center of the man’s forehead. He felt no remorse as he fell, slack-jawed and wide-eyed onto the ground.

All he could focus on was the sudden gut-wrenching screams coming from Y/N.

Daryl threw his crossbow down and dropped beside Y/N, her face crumpled in agony as her shaking hands hovered over the center of her thigh, where the hilt of her blade was still sticking out. He pushed away any feelings of rage or fear, shut down any hints of weakness or panic and forced himself to remain calm.

Glenn appeared on the other side of Y/N a moment later, his face pale and taut as he surveyed the damage done to her leg.

“What’d we do?” Daryl snapped, speaking to Glenn but unable to take his eyes away from the blood spilling from Y/N’s open flesh.

“I-I…I don’t — I don’t think —” Glenn fumbled for the right words, racking his brain for an answer he couldn’t provide.

“Hey!” Daryl barked, his gaze locking with Glenn’s. “What the hell do we do? Hershel’s gotta’ve taught ya somethin’ useful!”

“I don’t know, man!” Glenn fired back, running a hand over his face. “We need to stop the bleeding — we need to get her back to Hershel.”

“D-Daryl,” Y/N grimaced, her entire body going rigid. “Take it out. P-Please, God, take the knife out!” she cried, squeezing her eyes shut as the remaining color in her face slipped away.

Daryl immediately reached for the knife, desperate to stop Y/N from being in any more pain, but Glenn grabbed his wrist just before he could wrap his fingers around the handle. He opened his mouth to protest, but Glenn quickly interjected. “We can’t,” he hissed under his breath.

“Why the hell not?” Daryl demanded, ripping his hand from Glenn’s.

“Look where the knife is, man,” he urged, taking a second to inspect the injury himself. “I don’t know much, but there’s a major artery right where that knife is. If we take the knife out and that artery’s been severed…” Glenn paused, his haunted eyes raising to meet Daryl’s. “She’ll bleed out before we make it home.”

Daryl felt the blood drain from his face, Y/N’s wounded cries mirroring his own internal anguish. How could he have let this happen? How had he not realized that Billy was still alive? Why hadn’t he intervened sooner? He’d had a gut feeling that something horrible was going to happen and it did. And now Y/N was paying the price.

This was his fault.

Y/N’s stark red blood stood out against the white tile floor, the puddle forming beneath her thigh growing with each moment that passed. Her cries had turned into soft whimpers, her body shaking violently every few seconds, her eyes squeezed shut, face contorted as she tried to breathe through the agony.

Daryl had never felt so helpless in his entire life. It felt as though someone had reached inside his chest and grabbed his heart, squeezing it in the palm of their hand until it disintegrated into nothingness. He couldn’t look at the red liquid inching towards him, couldn’t look at Y/N’s tormented expression, couldn’t look at the hilt of her knife still sticking out of her thigh.

So instead, he closed his eyes.

Time stood still for a moment — the blood pounding in Daryl’s ears imitating the steady thumping of a drum, his gut churning to the beat of Y/N’s quieted sobs, the overwhelming scent of blood — bitter like iron — wafting up his nostrils. It was almost too much for him to bear and he began to feel as though the store’s walls were closing in on him, threatening to crush him and the only thing left in this world that he truly loved…the only thing he truly loved?

The sudden notion caught Daryl off guard.

Was that what this feeling was called? Love? The thought had come so naturally — the stabbing reality that he might be on the cusp of losing the person he loved. Was that what it meant? The innate need to protect. The deep-seated desire to hold. The inherent demand to soothe. Daryl wasn’t sure he’d ever loved anything before, so why her? Why now? Why was the woman he loved bleeding out in front of him on the floor of a dirty marketplace? That didn’t seem right. None of this seemed right.

Time regained momentum when Daryl felt a shaking hand wrap around his own. His eyes shot open, locking with Y/N’s teary, fearful gaze as she squeezed his hand a little tighter.

And Daryl knew right then and there, in that very moment, that there was no way in hell he was about to let Y/N slip through his fingers.

Daryl didn’t think.

He shot up to his feet, ignoring the way his hands trembled as he undid the clasp of his belt and slid it off his hips. A sudden thump drew his attention to the front store windows — he felt his heartbeat quicken when he spotted a mass of walkers spread out along the glass, concealing the view of the parking lot, eyeing the three survivors hungrily as they pressed against the entrance.

“Oh shit,” Glenn cursed, expression panicked.

“Get the car,” Daryl immediately growled, dropping to his knees once more beside Y/N.

Glenn faltered. “What?”

“Get the god damn car an’ bring it ‘round back!” the archer snapped, slipping his belt behind Y/N’s thigh, wincing when she cried out softly. “M’ sorry. Ya jus’ hang on, girl. Ya gon’ be okay,” he murmured to her, reaching up to brush back the hair that had fallen over her face before taking a breath and looking up at Glenn. “Slip out the back door. Go ‘round the other side a’ the building. There’s a row a’ trees ya can cut through ta’ avoid the biters,” he urged as he tightened the belt buckle a few inches above the injury in an attempt to slow the bleeding. “Get the car an’ bring it ‘round back. Go.”

Glenn nodded quickly, jumping to his feet and jogging to the back end of the store. Daryl watched as he peeked through the exit, ensuring the coast was clear before he bolted from the store and out of sight. Daryl took a deep breath, gritting his teeth together as he clasped the belt buckle as tight as it would go, his heart breaking as he elicited another pained gasp from Y/N. “M’ sorry, m’ sorry. S’alright, girl,” he soothed.

“Daryl…” she winced, gnashing her teeth to stop from crying out.

“Jus’ me an’ you, now. I got ya,” he murmured, taking her hand in his as he surveyed the walkers outside.

“Hurts,” she whimpered. He hated how small she sounded, how weak she was getting. He hated everything about the stupid fucking situation they’d suddenly found themselves in.

“I know,” he rumbled, despite the panic threatening to crush him. “S’ gonna be okay. I ain’t gon’ let nothin’ happen ta’ ya.” Nothin’ else, ya mean, a cruel voice in the back of his head sounded.

Y/N nodded shakily, training her eyes on the ceiling of the market, her teeth chattering as the effects of blood loss began to take over. “T-Talk to me,” she suddenly grimaced as another vicious shiver racked through her, the force of it causing her to flinch as the knife shifted inside her.

Daryl paused, shaking his head slightly. “What’d ya want me ta’ say?” he murmured helplessly, feeling her fingers tighten around his, ignoring the rush of heat that flushed his skin.

“Please,” she whispered, her voice cracking slightly, body stiffening in attempt to keep the next wave of pain at bay. “Just t-talk to me. D-Distract me,” she chattered, forcing a small smile onto her lips as she craned her neck towards him.

Daryl sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment as the thumping outside started getting louder and louder. He felt a pit begin to grow in his stomach and sent a silent urge to Glenn to pick up the damn pace. Those storefront windows weren’t going to keep that herd back for much longer. He was already beginning to see cracks in the glass forming along the edges. “Shit,” he growled, before focusing on Y/N. “We gotta move. M’ sorry.”

Y/N’s expression furrowed. “W-Why do you keep saying that?”

Daryl faltered. “Huh?”

“You keep apologizing,” she clarified, wincing slightly.

Daryl didn’t miss how the words at the tail end of her sentence began slurring together. Instead of responding to her question, he braced himself to relocate Y/N towards the back door, where Glenn would be bringing the car any moment now. He slipped his crossbow over his shoulder, along with his pack before kneeling in front of Y/N. “We can talk all ya want after Hershel takes a look at ya,” he finally vowed, expression fierce.

But Y/N just looked up at him sadly. “Might not make it back,” she whispered weakly.

“Stop,” Daryl immediately shot back, the words slipping through his lips almost instantly. “I’m gettin’ ya home. Now, ya jus’ hang on, girl.”

Then, without another word, Daryl slipped one arm behind Y/N’s back and the other beneath her knees, hefting her off the group in one swift motion. She cried out in agony as her leg jostled, grabbing a fistful of his leather vest in her hand as he maneuvered her to the opposite end of the store.

Once he reached the other side, he set her down gently, propping her up in a seated position with her back pressed against the doorframe. A thin sheen of sweat coated her forehead, her breathing coming out heavier than normal, her skin even paler than before. Daryl feared she was seconds from passing out but then suddenly, her eyes widened, a horrified expression crossing her features as she looked not at him…but behind him.

A moment later, a deafening crash sounded throughout the store and Daryl whipped his head around, watching as one of the glass pane windows shattered open and a cluster of walkers began stumbling inside.

The first wave of walkers started feasting on Wade — Daryl wasn’t sure if the man was already dead from the beating he’d gotten or simply unconscious. Either way, as soon as the biters began ripping the flesh from his exposed skin, it didn’t matter anymore. He was gone.

The second wave of the dead swarmed around Billy’s body, the mass of them concealing him from view as they feasted.

Daryl didn’t think.

He uttered every curse word he could think of as he jumped to his feet and pulled out Wade’s gun, still tucked into the waistband of his jeans. He fired at the third wave of walkers who’d set their sights on the remaining live survivors. Five bullets found a home inside of the brains of five biters before the gun’s chamber emptied.

It felt as though his body was on autopilot as he slung his crossbow off his shoulder and began reloading it. He huffed a breath as he fired a bolt at an approaching dead one, feeling that familiar sense of satisfaction as the biter fell to the floor, an arrow through its skull. The crossbow reload time was slowing him down, so he opted for the hunting knife stashed in his pack’s side pocket. He glanced over his shoulder at Y/N as he reached for his weapon, noticing how her skin was nearly translucent, except for the streaks of blood covering her body. Her gaze met his, wide-eyed and terrified — so Daryl pushed aside his growing fears, shot her a determined nod, and simply positioned his body protectively in front of hers.

But there were just too many biters. For every two Daryl took down, three more took their place, hungrily clawing at him, attempting to tear into his flesh. His chest was heaving, lungs tightening, body aching, but he refused to give up. He prayed to whatever higher power was out there — if there even was any higher power out there — to help him get through this, to help him get Y/N out of here alive.

And then suddenly, in the next instance, he saw something that sent a jolt of hope through him — he spotted Glenn peeling through the parking lot like a bat out of hell, blaring the car horn to attract the dead infiltrating the storefront. His attempts luckily worked, distracting most of the walkers, who turned their attention in pursuit of the roaring vehicle and began ambling out of the store. Daryl felt a weight lift off his chest as the small horde in front of him became much more manageable. He watched Glenn disappear from sight, veering the car towards the back of the store.

But all it took was that moment — that single, solitary moment of distraction — and one biter made its attack. Daryl felt its cold, rotted hands twist around his limbs, the weight of the onslaught knocking him clean off his feet and onto his back before he even had a chance to take a breath. A rush of air escaped his lips as a heaviness settled over his chest. He lifted his head up, only to come nose to nose with one of the most grotesque walkers he’d ever seen, its jaws snapping wildly, vying for a taste of his flesh.

A swell of panic overcame him as he began flailing his arms and legs, trying to maneuver his knife for a counter attack, but to no avail — still, he kept fighting, grunting from the exertion, desperate for the release.

A mist of hot, putrid air filled his nose as the biter laying on top of him opened its mouth, unhinged its jaw, and launched a fatal bite towards the exposed flesh of his neck…

But then, he heard a blood-curdling scream and the walker on top of him stilled.

He faltered, feeling his breath catch in his throat as he craned his neck, struggling to push the dead weight off his body — and that’s when he saw it.

A knife embedded into the walker’s brain — Y/N’s knife.

And Daryl felt his stomach drop. He scrambled out from beneath the biter, roughly shoving it to the side. He sat up quickly, his gaze immediately landing on Y/N — she was splayed out beside him, crying softly, curled inwardly, fingers wrapped around the now visible gash on her thigh. “No, no, no,” he murmured in horror as the amount of blood spilling out of Y/N’s thigh increased like a river that had overflowed. “No! Damn it, Y/N, what did ya do? What did ya do, damn it! What did ya do!” he demanded wildly, although the answer was clear as day.

She’d saved his life. She’d ripped that knife out of her thigh and plunged it into the brain of the walker that had attacked him. She’d saved him.

And the cost of that sacrifice could very well be her life.

Daryl didn’t think.

“Shit!” he swore, rushing to Y/N’s side and pressing down on the gushing wound in an attempt to slow the bleeding.

An abrupt gunshot snapped his gaze up towards the back door where he saw Glenn suddenly appear, firing his pistol at the incoming walkers. “We gotta go!” he shouted in a panic, shooting at a biter that was about to swipe at Y/N’s outstretched leg.

Daryl growled under his breath, slipping an arm beneath Y/N’s knees and behind her back, quickly lifting her off the ground. She cried out from the sudden movement, but Daryl pushed forward, hurrying through the back door. Glenn laid down some cover fire as he backed out of the store, right on the archer’s heels, slamming the door to the market shut behind him.

“Door!” Daryl snapped, waiting until Glenn scrambled to open the back door of the car, allowing Daryl to maneuver himself into the backseat, Y/N still cradled in his arms.

The archer inched forward until he was able to reach behind and slam the door shut as Glenn threw himself into the driver’s seat. The door to the market flew open as a river of walkers began pouring out, banging their fists against the car windows. But within seconds, Glenn had the car lurching forward, speeding out of the parking lot, leaving the horde of the dead behind.

Daryl adjusted himself in the cramped backseat, pressing his back against the car door and propping Y/N up between his legs, her back resting against his chest. “Alright, alright, ya with me, girl?” he murmured, slightly out of breath, wrapping one arm around her waist to keep her from jostling and the other reaching down her thigh to apply pressure on the oozing injury.

“Uh huh,” she mumbled meekly, words slurred as her head bobbed up and down.

“How long ’til we get there?” Daryl growled, staring at Glenn through the rearview mirror.

“Twenty minutes,” Glenn replied as he tightened his grip around the wheel, brows furrowed as he shot Y/N a worried look. “Maybe more.”

Daryl huffed a breath. “Make it ten,” he demanded, turning his attention back to Y/N’s trembling body as Glenn applied more force to the accelerator, the car barreling forward even faster. “How we doin’ here, huh? C’mon, talk ta’ me, Y/N,” he urged, tightening the belt strapped around her upper thigh before slipping his hand into his back pocket for the red rag he always kept tucked there, using the material in an attempt to slow the blood flow.

“Tired,” she murmured, her head lolling against Daryl’s shoulder.

“I need ya ta’ stay awake for me, alright? We’re almost there,” he coaxed anxiously, wondering if he sounded as scared as he felt.

Y/N seemed to find a bit of strength and tilted her head up to look at Daryl, their faces inches apart, simply taking the other in for a long, silent moment. “W-Wanna know a secret?” she suddenly murmured, eyes dropping tiredly, lips chapped and colorless.

Daryl swallowed the lump in his throat. “What?”

A small smile slipped across her features, reminding Daryl of that brief, lighthearted moment they’d shared in the market before all hell broke loose. “I’ve always had a crush on you,” she singsonged lightly, her words scratchy and faint, but something fiery igniting in her eyes.

“Stop,” he hushed quietly, rolling his eyes a bit. In any other instance, her words would’ve sent his mind reeling, his pulse whirling. But right now, watching the life slowly fade from her captivating gaze, those words drove a dagger directly into Daryl’s heart.

She sighed softly, a vicious tremor racking through her and Daryl quickly tightened his hold around her, almost as if he could physically transfer his own strength into her. But after the shiver ceased, her body feeling heavier than previously, she slowly craned her neck up to look at the archer. “S’ true,” she murmured, her eyes suddenly watering, her lower lip trembling. “You’re a good person, Daryl Dixon,” she whispered, her voice breaking as a swell of emotion overcame her, a single tear slipping from the corner of her eye and cascading down the side of her face. “The best,” she corrected herself, hiccuping slightly as her teeth began to chatter.

That was when Daryl realized her lips were turning blue.

His throat tightened like a sudden lump had formed there as he stared down into Y/N’s wide, round eyes. He had no words. What was there to say? That he was sorry? That this was his fault? That he didn’t deserve her affection? None of that seemed right.

So Daryl didn’t think.

Instead, he tilted his head down, merely an inch, gently pressing his warm lips to her cold ones. He couldn’t explain what had come over him. Maybe it was Y/N’s sudden confession. Maybe it was the close proximity or the given circumstances. Or maybe, just maybe, it was simply something he’d wanted to do since the moment he’d met her.

And so there he found himself, melding his lips with hers, pouring everything he’d wished he would’ve said and done before today into that one, soft, meaningful kiss.

When he pulled away, slightly breathless, Y/N was staring up at him in a mixture of awe and sadness, a slight tinge of rosy pink brought back to her lips and cheeks. “About damn time,” she whispered faintly, her gaze portraying all of the longing that Daryl felt in the depths of his soul.

But then, her eyes fluttered…her head bobbed…her color faded.

And Daryl was hit once more with the startling reality of what was happening. “No, no, no,” he murmured desperately, tightening his arms around her, attempting to prop her up straighter. “Alright, ya wanted ta’ talk, right? Let’s talk. What’d ya wanna talk ‘bout, Y/N? Anythin’. C’mon, tell me.”

Y/N exhaled shakily, fighting off the dark sleep threatening to take over. “Hey, D?” she mumbled weakly.

“Yeah?”

“Doesn’t hurt anymore,” she whispered, eyes drooping into slits. “My leg.”

Daryl felt his heart skip, a feeling of dread coursing through him. “Y/N —”

“Hey, D?”

Daryl squeezed his eyes shut, fearing what was to come. “Yeah?” he choked out.

Y/N paused. “I’ll always be your girl.”

His eyes shot open as Y/N nuzzled closer to his chest, tucking her head beneath his chin, sighing softly — and Daryl couldn’t help but feel a little bit of life leave her with that single breath. His vision suddenly blurred, eyes glassy with a sheen of unshed tears as he curled his arms protectively around her middle. “Always,” he murmured deeply, pressing his cheek onto the top of her head.

It was quiet after that, just the humming of the car engine filling the air as Glenn raced it down winding road after winding road. The dwindling sun could be seen peeking through the forest trees, setting the branches aglow with its brilliant rays. The road curved distinctly and Daryl knew they were growing closer to the prison, only a few miles from home at that point.

But it didn’t matter.

Because he had felt Y/N exhale a few moments prior and never resume breathing after that.

She was gone.

His girl was gone.

And all he could do was sit there, arms wrapped around her depleted, blood-soaked body, and envision what life might’ve looked like had he had the guts to tell her how he felt before it was too late.

Chapter Text

Everything felt distant.

There was a debilitating numbness spreading through Daryl’s body as the world muted around him — the roaring car engine, the sound of Glenn slamming his fist against the steering wheel to alert everyone at the prison of their return, the sound of the front gate scraping open as the vehicle barreled through the entrance.

But all Daryl could focus on was the dullness slowly and steadily taking over his senses.

His arms remained wrapped around Y/N’s middle in a vice-like grip, her skin already cold to the touch. Her head lolled listlessly against his shoulder after each bump in the road, her body stiff and rigid, lying limply against Daryl. He didn’t dare to look down at her. He already knew what he’d see — pale flesh, blue lips, lifeless eyes. Instead, he simply held her against his chest, staring absently out of the window in front of him, the passing surroundings flying by as Glenn drove the car up the dirt road that led to cell block C.

Daryl was vaguely aware of the car coming to an abrupt stop, of Glenn turning around in the driver’s seat and saying something to him — but he couldn’t hear the words over the blood pounding through his skull. He just stared blearily out the car window, ignoring the looming dread in his soul threatening to take over as the car shifted beneath him with Glenn’s exit.

Daryl had heard people talk about loss before — the way it feels as though you’re drowning in the middle of the ocean and every time you’re about to break the surface, about to take that desperate, crucial breath…another, even bigger wave topples over you, pushing you further down into the depths of the sea.

That’s what it felt like.

Except instead of an ocean, it was a vast, shadowy pit of nothingness. And instead of a wave crashing over him, it was a boundless, dark entity grasping onto his insides, twisting them into knots until he succumbed to its eminent ferocity.

Then through the bleakness, a sudden memory emerged.

He remembered all the nights he would join Y/N in one of the guard towers while on watch. They’d sit side by side, feet dangling off the tower’s platform, watching the stars as she’d muse about whatever came to mind — things she liked, things she disliked, her favorite movies, her favorite music, people she loved, people she lost — and they’d talk until the sun came up. Daryl would sit silently beside her most of the night, listening to her voice dance in the quiet. She’d often turn to him and ask for his answers in return, sick of hearing her own voice, she’d joke. But he’d usually shrug off her request and grumble a half-assed response — not much to say, he’d respond.

What he should’ve said was that hearing her speak brought him more peace than anything else in his entire life had — and he didn’t want to ruin that.

So he’d been content to simply sit and listen.

He should’ve told her the truth.

A sudden knock on the window jolted Daryl out of his thoughts as his head snapped up, subconsciously tightening his arms around Y/N’s body. He spotted Rick standing outside the car, a forlorn look on his face as he slowly opened the door opposite of Daryl.

The archer narrowed his gaze as the sheriff crouched down, running a hand over his tired face, rubbing his red-rimmed eyes as several other members of the group began to crowd around the car, all eyes trained on him.

“Daryl…” Rick sighed heavily, glancing back at the others as if for support before focusing back on him. “Daryl, I’m sorry,” he murmured earnestly, placing a hand over his heart.

Daryl swallowed the lump growing in his throat and opened his mouth to respond, but no sound came out. His brow furrowed as he tried again, but…nothing. He felt a swell of panic wash over him as he shook his head silently, desperately trying to communicate without a voice.

“Daryl…” Rick spoke again, his voice becoming softer, more distant. Daryl watched as the surrounding group members began slowly inching closer to the car, identical unsettling expressions flashing across their faces that sent the archer’s stomach rolling — what the fuck was happening here? “Daryl…” the sheriff murmured once more, his voice suddenly plummeting an entire octave lower, his features darkening ominously.

Daryl felt his chest constrict as he started wiggling backward as far as the car would allow, dragging Y/N’s limp body with him. He watched as the group began to slowly circle the car, feeling as though he was a caged animal, trapped in the confines of the space he was in.

His gaze locked on Rick’s, a small, foreboding smirk snaking its way across the sheriff’s lips as he cocked his head to the side, meeting Daryl’s stare head-on. “Daryl…” he snarled in a voice that was not his own. “We have to take her,” he singsonged distortedly.

An animalistic roar broke through Daryl’s lungs, pushing past the invisible barrier in his throat. “No!” he bellowed as Rick suddenly clawed at Y/N’s legs, grabbing her ankles, attempting to drag her out of the car and away from him. “Get the fuck off!”

Daryl slipped his arms beneath Y/N’s armpits, grunting as he pulled her closer his way. Rick threw his head back, a bellowing laugh echoing from deep in his gut as he yanked Y/N even harder in his direction. The other group members began banging their fists against the car in rapid succession — against the windows, the doors, the hood — and Daryl felt Y/N begin to slip from his grasp, being tugged closer and closer towards Rick’s frenzied persona.

“No!”

Daryl…” Rick whispered, his voice isolated and muddled, as though he was under water.

“Ya can’t take her!”

Daryl…” he hissed again, his sneer growing as he pulled Y/N out of Daryl’s hold, the archer hanging onto Y/N’s lifeless body merely by her fingertips…

“Stop!”

Daryl…

“No!”

“Daryl!”

No!” the cry tore through Daryl’s chest as he jolted awake, lungs heaving, limbs shaking as he struggled to see in the darkness that surrounded him. He was vaguely aware of someone beside him, gripping onto his shoulders, grounding him back to reality as a soft hand came up to cup the side of his face.

“Daryl, stop! It’s me!”

The voice was familiar. It wasn’t one of the twisted, sinister voices from before…this one was different. This one he knew.

His body stilled, breath coming out in rapid huffs as he cracked his eyes open, scanning the darkened room. He heard a softly muttered curse, along with some shifting beside him, before a warm glow lit up the room.

And he realized he wasn’t in the car anymore. He wasn’t fending off the warped versions of his group members. He was home.

And then…he saw her.

Y/N was stretched out beside him, propped up on her elbow, face etched with concern as she stared down at him. Her hair was pulled back in a messy braid, the left side matted down, the right side unruly. Her eyes were soft despite the worry fluttering through them. Her lips were pursed, turned downward in a slight frown. Her brow creased, causing faint lines to form along her forehead and Daryl held back the urge to reach out and smooth them down.

He felt the inkling of reality begin to trickle back in as he looked up at her — she was here, she was alive, she was safe.

Daryl felt a shaky breath escape his lips as he squeezed his eyes shut and draped one arm over his face, hiding his gaze beneath the crook of his elbow.

Some nights he dreamt that Y/N died in his arms on the floor of that marketplace. Other nights he dreamt of Billy stabbing her in the heart instead of the leg, killing her instantly. But on really bad nights, he dreamt of her dying during the car ride home, only to be ravaged by the twisted personas of other members in the group — he wasn’t sure the meaning behind that one, but it always left him slightly breathless, his pulse unable to calm for the rest of the night.

Nights like these made him feel weak, made him feel embarrassed. Y/N was the one who’d been attacked, who’d been traumatized, who’d nearly died — and she was keeping her shit together just fine. Why couldn’t he do the same? Why couldn’t he accept the fact that Y/N was okay? That she had made it?

The cell was silent for a long moment before Y/N’s soft voice spoke up. “Which one was it this time?” she asked quietly, her words lacking any judgment or frustration — simply patience and worry.

Daryl cleared his throat quietly, still trying to shake away the remnants of the latest nightmare. “Car,” he rumbled, not needing to explain further — Y/N knew. She knew about all of them. Nightmares had become a regular thing for Daryl over the last few weeks. No matter how much time passed, no matter how hard he tried to stop them…they just kept coming. Ever since that day — the day he almost lost everything.

He felt Y/N shift beside him as she sighed softly. Without warning, she gently grabbed his wrist and removed his arm from his face, placing it onto his chest instead as she brought her hand up to push back the hair from his face. “Oh, Daryl…” she exhaled, her eyes torn as she lightly brushed his hair down, scanning his features worriedly. “What am I gonna do with you?” she whispered quietly, her words laced with nothing but affection.

Daryl glanced up at her, feeling his heart begin to return to its normal pace as she stroked his hair. For a few minutes, they simply stared at one another, taking the brief moment of peace to find some stillness.

After their run-in with Wade and Billy, after Y/N nearly lost her life, after the moment they’d shared in the car…everything changed. The feelings Daryl tried to ignore had only heightened after the tender, tear-stricken kiss they’d shared during the car ride home — when they’d been unsure whether or not they’d ever get the chance again. And when they’d finally arrived back at the prison and Hershel told him he could, in fact, still feel Y/N’s pulse — faint and fading but there — everything changed.

She’d lost so much blood, another couple of minutes and she wouldn’t have made it, Hershel had told him. She’d been lucky though — the knife had just narrowly missed severing the major artery in her thigh, which ended up being the only reason she was still alive. The outcome could’ve been drastically different — one of the horrible nightmares Daryl suffered from could’ve been their reality. But it hadn’t. Y/N was here. She was alive. She was safe.

“Come with me,” she suddenly murmured, wincing slightly as she maneuvered herself over Daryl’s body, coming to a stand beside the edge of the cot. She hissed softly as she balanced on one leg, the leg that’d been injured still in the process of healing, wrapped in a thick white bandage.

Daryl immediately sat up, swinging his legs off the side of the bed as his hands hovered close to Y/N. “Hey, no,” he shook his head quickly, reaching out towards her. “Hershel said ta’ keep off that leg. C’mon, back ta’ bed,” he urged, moving to stand beside her, trying to coax her off her feet.

“I’ve been in bed long enough,” Y/N sighed exasperatedly, but Daryl could tell by the way she grimaced, she was still in pain. “Come on, let’s go to our spot,” she smiled sweetly and the archer felt some of his resolve fade.

After a long moment, he exhaled. “Alright,” he grumbled. 

Who was he kidding? When had he ever been able to say ‘no’ to her?

Y/N’s grin grew as she grabbed the lantern she’d lit moments ago and began making her way out of the cell, Daryl following close behind. They crept through the prison, careful not to wake any of their sleeping group members. Y/N’s injured leg slowed their pace but eventually, they made it outside, the crisp air a welcoming relief from the confines of the cell they shared.

Daryl could tell Y/N’s leg was beginning to bother her by the way she winced with each step, the way her limp became more prominent, the way her breathing became heavier. But she kept her pace, being the stubborn, determined person she was. When the two finally made it past the first gate that led into the open field, Daryl had had enough.

He took a long stride forward and slid his body in front of Y/N’s, halting her momentum, causing her to bump into his chest, his hands immediately coming up to steady her. “What —”

“Hop on,” he rumbled, turning so his back was facing her, crouching down slightly.

“I’m fine, D. I can —”

But Daryl just shot her a stern look over his shoulder, silencing her protests as she sighed and rolled her eyes, but eventually conceded. He grunted as she managed to propel herself onto his back using only one leg, squeaking a bit as she began to slide off, quickly wrapping her arms around his neck. He hooked his arms behind her knees, hoisting her further up his back until she was in a comfortable position. “Ya good?” he huffed, tightening his grip on her.

“I’m good,” she nodded, slightly out of breath as she rested her chin on his shoulder.

Daryl felt the corner of his mouth quirk up as he began venturing out across the prison’s field, making his way towards one of the empty guard towers, the other one occupied by Glenn and Maggie who were on watch for the night. He could feel Y/N nuzzling her cheek against his neck and tried to hold back the involuntary stiffness it brought to his body.

The archer pushed passed his impulsive need to recoil, still unaccustomed to the affection Y/N so easily showed him, and quickened his pace, eliciting a quiet giggle from his girl as he sped up. He finished crossing the field and approached the guard tower’s doorway, maneuvering the entrance open with one hand before beginning to ascend the stairway.

He reached the top of the guard tower fairly quickly, even with Y/N’s added weight, and slid her off his back once he pushed open the door that led to the outside platform. Daryl wiped the thin sheen of sweat that formed on his forehead, his breath coming out slightly heavier as he watched Y/N wiggle past him and limp towards the railing. She inhaled deeply, her head falling back as she stared up at the night sky for a moment, before glancing over her shoulder at him, a soft smile gracing her face — and Daryl felt his stomach flip like it usually did.

“Come here,” she murmured, ushering him closer.

Daryl closed the door softly behind him and joined her at the edge, resting his forearms against the railing that overlooked the forest beyond the prison gates. He became lost in his thoughts, the nightmare he’d suffered from on the forefront of his mind. He just couldn’t shake it. He couldn’t get the image of Y/N bleeding out in his arms from his memory.

Daryl felt Y/N shift beside him as she began lowering herself, wincing as her injured leg bent uncomfortably. The archer immediately wrapped his arm around her waist, helping ease her down onto the platform, her legs dangling off the edge as a long sigh escaped her lips. He settled down beside her with a huff, sitting side by side in comfortable silence for a moment.

“You harbor so much guilt that doesn’t belong to you,” Y/N suddenly murmured, her eyes trained towards the darkened forest.

Daryl faltered, peeking a glance over at her, taking in her pensive brow and far away gaze. So he did what he did best — he deflected. “Ya get that from a fortune cookie or somethin’?”

Y/N snorted softly, slapping the side of his thigh lightly as she exhaled, turning her gaze towards him. “I’m serious,” she urged, the humor fading from her eyes and Daryl wished he could erase the concern that now masked her expression. She shook her head slightly, swiveling her eye line back to the trees. “I don’t know how to help you, D,” she whispered so softly Daryl almost missed it.

Her words only heightened his preexisting guilt and for a second, he truly considered standing up and simply walking away — he’d never wanted to make Y/N feel this way and it drove a pain through his heart so vast, it nearly took his breath away. Maybe she’d be better off without him. Maybe she needed to be with someone more stable, more emotionally available — someone who didn’t disappoint her every fucking chance they got.

But before Daryl could muster the courage to stand, he felt Y/N intertwine her fingers through his and inch closer to his side, resting her head gently on his shoulder. And every sense of resolve he felt, every urge to simply walk away, vanished into the night the moment her skin flushed against his.

“You’re the best thing in my life, you know that?” she suddenly murmured, her voice vibrating against Daryl’s shoulder.

His body stiffened beneath her as he replayed her words in his head, unsure how to respond to such an ass-backward confession. “Pretty shitty life, then,” he rumbled, attempting sarcasm but somehow, it came out more genuine than anything he’d ever said — and the notion formed a pit in his stomach.

Y/N slowly lifted her head, craning her neck towards him, her penetrating gaze surveying his features. “I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she sighed.

“Do what?” Daryl retorted, unable to come up with anything more clever than that.

By the light of the moon, the archer could see Y/N roll her eyes. “You know what,” she shot back, an edge to her words. “Put yourself down like that. It’s ridiculous and hurtful and untrue,” she finished heatedly.

Daryl remained silent, absorbing her words for a moment before looking away. He could feel Y/N’s gaze burning a hole into the side of his face before she finally turned her eyes up towards the sky. “What happened at that market was fucked,” she suddenly voiced, a slight chill coursing through her as though she was briefly reliving their run-in with Wade and Billy. “But I can’t let it dictate the rest of my life, Daryl — I just can’t. I have to let it go. We have to let it go. Otherwise…” she sighed heavily, searching for the right words. “Otherwise they win.”

Daryl squeezed his eyes shut, wishing he could rid his soul of the fiery wrath he felt, of the bottomless guilt twisted around his insides. “I can’t,” he finally grunted, digging his fingernails into the palms of his hands.

“Why not?”

“I jus’ can’t,” he brushed off tersely.

Why not?” Y/N pressed, turning to face him head-on.

“Cause ya could’a died,” the words spewed out of him. “An that’s on me.”

Y/N was silent for a long moment and Daryl couldn’t find the boldness to look at her, afraid of what he’d see. “How is it on you?” she asked quietly, genuinely baffled.

Daryl shrugged. “Cause it is.”

How?” she implored, desperate for some kind of explanation.

“Cause it’s my job ta’ look after ya,” he snapped. “Ta’ keep ya safe. An’ now, look at ya,” he gestured wildly to her bandaged injury. “Ya got a fuckin’ hole in your leg.”

Y/N pursed her lips, clearly searching for a way to get through to him. “I’m alive, aren’t I?”

But Daryl didn’t want to hear it. “Hershel said — ya heard him — he said ya might have a limp, that ya might never walk too good again an —“

“I’m alive, Daryl,” Y/N interjected, cutting off his stream of consciousness. “You did that. I’m alive. And here. With you,” she pushed, locking eyes with him before reaching out to cup the side of his face. “D, you are the most important thing in my life. And I want to be with you more than anything. But…” she sighed, struggling for the right words once more as she pulled away. “But it kills me to see you like this. We need to move forward from what happened. I mean, look at everything around us — look at what we’re buildinghere.”

Y/N motioned towards the flourishing prison grounds, the rows of seeded soil, the fresh crops sprouting. Ever since the Governor disappeared and the people of Woodbury had integrated with their own, things had been civil — nearly reminiscent of life before the dead started walking.

“We can’t keep living in the past. What’s done is done and all we can do is move forward. That’s all we can ever do,” she finished and for a brief moment, Daryl was unsure if she was trying to convince him or herself. “So please, Daryl,” she murmured, her voice suddenly thick with emotion. “I need you to forgive yourself. Or at least try. Please. For me.”

The archer was quiet for another long moment before he exhaled heavily.

Who was he kidding? When had he ever been able to say ‘no’ to her?

And so Daryl nodded, practically imperceptible, but there.

A cautious smile played at the corner of Y/N’s lips. “Promise?” she challenged, eyes hopeful.

“Promise,” Daryl rumbled without missing a beat.

A teary grin spread across Y/N’s features, a nearly visible weight looking like it had been lifted off her chest. She sighed softly, looping her fingers around his once more and placing her head back on his shoulder, curling her body around his and snuggling against his arm. The archer felt a swell of warmth spread through his chest as he pressed a soft kiss onto the top of her head without thinking twice.

He felt Y/N’s smile widen against his shoulder as she lightly brushed her thumb in circles against his hand. “I’m gonna hold you to that promise, Dixon,” she mused. “Or else I’ll have to kick your ass,” she teased, the air between them no longer heavy.

Daryl just scoffed, the corner of his mouth quirking up. “That’s my girl,” he murmured fondly, tightening his hand around hers as the first signs of light began to break through the trees.

They remained side by side in comfortable silence, reveling in the moment of peace they found, grateful to share another simple sunrise in a world as unpredictable and cold as the dead that roamed it.

But in that moment — hearing Y/N’s quiet breathing, feeling her warmth spread against his flushed skin, watching her eyes soften as she looked up at him — Daryl had never felt more alive.