With two squirrels hung at his belt, Daryl was taking aim for a third when a certain cry reached his ears and broke his concentration. "Dammit..." He cursed under his breath as the small creature took off running behind a fallen tree and out of sight. Normally he would have waited for the squirrel to move again since they were extremely low on food, but with Judith close by and clearly upset he slung his bow over his shoulder and took off running in the direction of her cries.
The longer he ran through the thick forest in search of the little girl that was in some sort of trouble, the more he felt himself start to panic. For one, he was more than half a mile away from their camp. There shouldn't have been any reason for her or Beth to be out there wandering around without him. And second, Judith hardly ever cried. She may have only been four years old, but she was smart enough to not draw attention to herself and the fact she was being loud and crying worried him.
When he finally found her and realized she was alone, it felt like someone punched him in the gut and he staggered a bit as he approached her. It was a mixed reaction at how frightened she looked curled in a ball with her back against a tree and Beth nowhere in sight.
He instantly scooped Judith into his arms and pulled her against his chest as he frantically scanned the area for any Walkers that may of heard her cries. "It's alright sweetheart." He said softly, trying to soothe the terrified little girl that was clinging to his vest. Even when Judith was a baby she could turn Daryl into a complete softy and it only got worse over the years. Eventually he came to accept it was love and having her in his arms at that moment scared the shit out of him as he thought about all the horrible things that could have happened to her in the short time she'd been out there alone.
"Why ain't ya with Beth?" He asked when she finally stopped shaking.
Judith lifted her head from his shoulder, tears still running down her cheeks. "Beth said...she told me...she..." Daryl wiped at her face and waited as she struggled to get her four year old brain to process what she was trying to say. Something he knew to be patient with whenever she was excited or upset.
"Slow down. Take a deep breath and try again." Daryl forced his voice to remain calm to keep her from picking up on his worry and started walking toward the river with her still in his arms. It was the easiest way to travel back to where he'd last seen Beth.
After a deep breath and a sniffle, Judith sighed. "Beth told me ta run."
Daryl tensed, shifting her to rest on his hip. "What for?" He asked, his pace quickening.
She frowned and brought her tiny hands up to rub her eyes. "Because of the man."
"A Walker?" Beth was more than capable of fighting against the dead and protecting Judith all by herself. Which was the main reason he hadn't feared leaving the two of them behind while he went to hunt and for her to tell Judith to run, putting her in a position to fend for herself, meant Beth had no other way of keeping the little girl safe and he suddenly found himself scared at what they might stumbled upon once they returned to camp.
Judith shook her head, tangling her fingers around the strap that held Daryl's crossbow. "A man like you...'cept he was mean." She held out her arm to show him her scraped elbow.
Daryl carefully inspected the cut to make sure it wasn't any worse than it appeared. "He did that to ya?" The thought of anyone hurting her infuriated him and he was thankful the tiny scrape was all she had suffered.
Judith gave him a nod and Daryl silently kissed the side of her head as they approached the river. When he went to put her down she quickly tightened her arms around his neck. "No Daryl!" She whined. "Don't leave me!"
Taking a step forward, Daryl dropped to a knee so her feet were touching the leaves on the ground and spoke softly. "Ain't gonna leave ya, but I need my hands real quick." He carefully grabbed her wrists to pull her from his neck and stood before she could protest. "Hold on ta my pants and don't let go 'til I say." When she did as instructed he slung his bow from around his back to take out a Walker that had been lingering by the water until Judith had raised her voice. Now it was coming toward them and without a second glance Daryl skillfully sent it crashing to the ground with a bolt through the side of its head.
Judith jumped slightly at the Walker's growl before it fell and clung tighter to Daryl's leg. This was the only life the little girl knew and she had grown used to hanging back as the others fought to keep her safe, but after being separated from Beth and alone in the forest. she was still shaken by the ordeal, the slightest thing scaring her and it didn't surprise him when she started crying again.
All Daryl could do for the trembling four year old was scoop her back into his arms and try to reassure her that she was safe, that he wouldn't let anything happen to her. "Don't cry." He whispered, her watery blue eyes bringing back that familiar ache in his chest.
Judith hiccuped and sniffled, her hands coming up to play with his long hair as she tried to calm herself down. Daryl didn't mind, it was something she'd done since she was around two years old and he never had the heart to tell her to stop. If he was completely honest it was kind of comforting and he needed the distraction to keep himself from worrying about Beth the closer they got to their camp.
When it came into his line of view he shifted Judith to stand and took her hand as he looked around. He could clearly see where the leaves and dirt beside the tent had been disturbed, an obvious struggle between Beth and someone else. There were tiny spots of blood leading further out away from them and he clenched his jaw as he imagined what she went through. "Beth!" He called softly, hoping if she was close by she'd hear him. There was no response.
Judith pulled on his hand as she bent down to pick something up from the ground and the motion caught his attention. It was Beth's necklace. Hershel had given it to her on her tenth birthday and from what he knew she hadn't taken it off since that day. He carefully took it from Judith and rubbed the golden cross that hung from it between his fingers as he thought about what to do. It wasn't like he could leave Judith there alone to search the area, plus there was a small chance whoever attacked Beth could still be close by and he wouldn't risk putting the little girl in that kind of danger.
"Where is she?" Judith asked. Her small voice full of concern.
He squeezed her hand, shoving Beth's necklace into his pocket before sitting down on a log that was by the fire pit. "I dunno." He felt defeated. Beth was strong, she knew how to protect herself, but he was still scared that the worst possible thing had happened to her. That she was either dead or someone had her captive and he wouldn't be able to find her. Tracking with a four year old was difficult, but at this point it looked like their only option. He just needed a minute to get his thoughts together.
Judith moved to stand between his legs, her little arms wrapping around him when she saw how sad he looked. He gently pulled her against his chest and placed a hand on the back of her head.
"Should we look for her?" She asked, her voice muffled by his vest.
He leaned back slightly to see her face and took in a deep breath. "What can ya tell me about the man?"
Judith crinkled her forehead as she tried to remember. "He came from over there." She pointed over his shoulder and he glanced in that direction. "Beth was reading me a book...he grabbed her." She moved from him suddenly and he tried to keep her within reach, but she stopped just as he was about to pull her back and picked up what he assumed was the book Beth had been reading. It was covered in dirt and Judith shook it to clean off the pages. "See?" She handed it to him.
He took the book and set it beside him on the log, then reached out to make her face him again. He needed her to pay attention. "Then what happened?"
Judith frowned and moved her hand to touch his that was on her upper arm. "He pushed her down...I tried to help...I...he hurt my arm."
"Did he hurt Beth?" Daryl asked, brushing a stray hair out of her face. He already knew having this conversation with someone so young would be difficult, but he had to get as much information from her as possible. She was the last one to see Beth alive and the only one who could identify the man if they managed to cross his path.
Judith dropped her eyes and pulled at the collar of her shirt, eventually giving him a nod. "She was bleeding." She mumbled, making Daryl cursed under his breath. "He tried to take her clothes off..."
That pushed Daryl over the edge and he swallowed hard to keep his emotions in check as he dug his nails into the log he was sitting on. It was one thing having to deal with people just being cruel and wanting to hurt others, but dealing with sick perverts looking for women to rape made him see red.
Before he had a chance to get a grip on his growing anger a branch snapping a few feet away sent him to his feet in an instant, almost knocking Judith over in the process. He carefully grabbed her shoulder and pushed her behind him while he positioned his crossbow to take aim in the direction the sound came from.
"Daryl?" A weak voice spoke and he almost dropped to his knees when Beth stepped out from behind a tree.
"Jesus." He breathed and quickly moved to where she was standing. Her shirt was in shreds, the button on her jeans clearly broken and she was holding her side where blood was slowly seeping through her fingers.
"I'm alright." She told him softly when he moved her hand away and lifted her shirt to see the cut there. It didn't seem very deep, but it went from her hip all the way up to her ribs. It looked as if whoever attacked her was trying to cut her pants and she struggled, her side getting cut instead.
Daryl turned to Judith who was glued to his leg. "Can ya grab the first aid kit out of the tent for me sweetheart?" He asked, touching under her chin to make her look at him. She gave him a hesitant nod and loosened the death grip on his jeans.
"Is she OK?" Beth wondered, watching as the little girl walked away.
Daryl reached up to swipe his thumb under her lower lip that was bleeding and carefully checked her swollen eye. "Shes fine, just scared...I was so fuckin' worried 'bout ya." He admitted. "Didn't think I'd ever see ya again."
Beth frowned and dropped her face against his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around him even though it caused her pain. "Can't get rid of me that easy." She half laughed and sobbed into his shirt. "I can't believe I told her to run...it's a miracle you found her...that shes still aliv-"
"Stop." Daryl interrupted, hating that she was causing herself more stress. "Ya did what ya had ta do. Who knows what would have happened ta her otherwise."
Beth refused to move from his embrace when Judith returned to them and he honestly didn't want to let her go. "I killed him." She said suddenly and Daryl instinctively pulled her closer, kissing the top of her head.
"Did he...I mean..." Daryl stuttered, not exactly sure how to ask her if she was raped. He was almost positive she wouldn't want to talk about it if she had been, but he needed to know, he had to be sure he wouldn't do anything that might frighten her or make the situation worse. Thankfully she knew what he was asking when he ran his fingers over her ruined shirt and didn't require him to speak of it again.
She shook her head and caught him off guard when she cupped his cheeks and yanked him into a kiss despite her busted lip. He couldn't help curling his fingers through her hair and shoving his tongue into her mouth to kiss her deeper, creating a soft moan between them as he lost himself to her. A tugging at Beth's side shortened their intimate moment and she let his lips fall from hers with a gentle suck as she turned her attention to Judith.
"Got it." The little girl said, holding out the medical supplies. "We'll make you feel better."
Beth took the first aid kit and handed it to Daryl so she could kneel and give Judith a hug. "I'm so glad you're alright."
"Daryl found me." She told her.
Beth tightened her hold and kissed her forehead. "He'll always find you." She whispered.
Daryl waited patiently for his two girls to have their small reunion, but soon his worry got the best of him and he placed a hand on Beth's shoulder. "Lets get ya cleaned up."
She let Judith go and went to sit down on a small blanket by the tent, tearing her tattered shirt away from her body in the process. She tossed it into the fire pit to be burned later and waited for Daryl as he got Judith settled close by with some toys to keep her busy. Once she was content with a book he dropped to his knees beside Beth on the blanket and carefully made her lay back to get a better view of her side. She hissed in pain when stretching out pulled at the wound and he gently slid his fingers down her ribs, avoiding the tender flesh as he felt around to make sure nothing was broken.
"Can ya tell me what happened?" He asked as he grabbed a bottle of water and soaked a rag to start cleaning away the dirt and dry blood.
Beth winced at the contact and shut her eyes, resting her arm over her forehead. "He came out of nowhere, acted like he needed help. I didn't think anything of it since he was alone...not until he saw Judith and got this look..." She paused to bite her lip when Daryl's hand brushed directly over the cut to dab at it. "He tried to grab her...and to imagine what he would have done after what he tried to do to me...Daryl he could of really hurt her...in so many different ways." She blinked and tried to force back the tears she could feel trying to fall at the thought of someone doing those sick things to the innocent little girl.
"But he didn't. Ya told her ta run and kept him from goin' after her." Daryl reminded her as he placed the bandage against her skin and grabbed some tape to secure it there.
"I didn't even think about Walkers or someone else finding her...I was so worried about making sure he couldn't touch her...and when he figured out he couldn't have what he wanted he went after me." Soft lips pressing above her belly button made her sigh and she forced herself to calm down. She was safe, Judith was safe and Daryl was still there like he always promised to be. She carefully tangled her fingers through his hair when he kissed her stomach again, lower this time.
"Daryl, she can see you." Beth whispered, keeping her voice low so only he could hear.
"She's busy singin' ta herself..." He said, nipping at her exposed hip bone. He was fully aware of what Judith was doing, constantly flicking his eyes in her direction to make sure her attention was on anything other than them. It wasn't like he was going to strip her of her remaining clothes and make love to her right there out in the open, not after what she just went through, but he wanted to help her relax and take a moment to appreciate the fact she was still there when she'd been so close to being ripped out of his life completely.
When he settled beside her and made his way back up her body, his fingertips gliding along her uninjured side, he finally saw the bite mark above her left breast when her bra shifted and instantly got angry all over again. "That bastard fuckin' bit ya?" He asked with a growl.
Beth reached out to touch his cheek to keep him from over reacting. "I killed him, remember?"
Daryl sighed and kissed her forehead. She was right. The man was dead and he wasn't going to get another chance to hurt her, but Daryl couldn't help being sensitive to the whole situation when she was involved. "I kn-" He stopped talking mid sentence when he saw Judith stand and quickly pulled himself away from Beth and into a sitting position.
Judith had been around them long enough at this point to know they would kiss or hold each other, but he figured since Beth was laying there in only her bra and torn jeans the four year old didn't need to see him with his hands and mouth roaming her body. Thankfully when Judith plopped herself in Daryl's lap to join them she was only concerned about how Beth was feeling and not the fact she was laying there without a shirt on.
"Is she all better now?" Judith asked, looking at Daryl for conformation.
"I'm fine baby." Beth answered for him and reached out to take her hand, squeezing it gently.
Judith grinned and moved away from Daryl with more excitement than he expected, barreling her tiny body toward Beth's injured side. With quick reflexes he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back to him before she was able to cause any damage. "Ya gotta be careful lil' bit."
"Sorry." The little girl apologized with a frown.
Beth shifted to sit up then and chewed on the inside of her cheek to hold back a moan when moving caused a burning sensation to shoot up her side. "It's alright sweetie, I'm just gonna be a little sore for a few days." She said through clenched teeth, trying to hide exactly how much pain she was in.
Daryl didn't miss the look on her face and could clearly tell she was hurting more than she was letting on. "There's some pills left if ya think it'll help." He offered, letting Judith go to sit with her when she kept fidgeting in his lap.
She shook her head stubbornly. "We should save them."
"I don't want ya hurtin' if ya don't need ta be. I can find more." He insisted as he stood to get her a clean shirt.
"It's been almost a year since the last time we came across a store that actually had anything left. I'll be alright." She brought her attention back to him when he stepped out of the tent holding a purple tank top for her. "I promise."
Daryl dropped to his knees and extended his arm to cup her cheek, searching her eyes for any sign of doubt. He hated the thought of her having to suffer if she didn't have to. "Ya better be." He said after giving her a quick peck on the lips