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The Shadow

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The children call it the shadow and at first Shane is pretty sure they’ve made up the creature to scare the younger ones. He didn’t really see a reason for it since they had their own monsters clawing at the fence every single day trying to kill them but he won’t stop their fun and besides monster stories didn’t hurt anyone. All of the adults hear about it and join in, making up stories of the shadow that lived in the hidden areas of the prison and snatched away little children that didn’t do their chores. It’s nothing but a part of their new lives in the prison and Shane doesn’t pay much attention to it at all.

He’s got more important things to focus on than children’s stories and honestly he doesn’t give the shadow tale another thought until Lizzie comes bouncing up to them. Rick and himself are tending to the farm, joking between each other and enjoying the bright sunlight of the day as the walkers are kept at bay by the fences surrounding them. The young girl is grinning, a skip in her step as she runs up to them and looking pleased with herself.

“Come on you’ve got to come and see.” She smiles, bright white teeth and a dirt smeared face, a girl too young to be an adult but forced to grow up too soon because of the world. “I almost got him.”

“Almost got who?” Rick asks, not standing from where he’s yanking out weeds and checking through the soil, making sure there’s nothing that’s gotten in to their vegetable patch without his knowledge.

Lizzie rolls her eyes, acting as most teenagers did when adults couldn’t read their minds and huffing loudly with a sigh. “The shadow.” She drags the words out across her tongue, slow and spelling it out for them as if they were stupid. “None of you believed us so I was going to catch him and show you all. Well I almost got him, come and take a look.” She barely pauses to gesture for them to follow, already eager to head back inside and show them her supposed success.

Shane snorts and glances to Rick, catching his friend’s eye before looking at their day’s work. “Well we could do with a break.” He shrugs, and he knows this must be a big deal if Lizzie was coming to show them. Honestly they needed to relax a bit more and if they could join in on the children’s story of the shadow and amuse Lizzie in one of her games then why not? “Come on, let’s go see what she got, probably a rat or something.”

Rick snorts and follows, the two of them nodding for Lizzie to show them the way and letting the young girl babble on about proving them all wrong and them being proud of her for managing to get so close. They humour her, nodding along with the stories of the shadow and how he’d been creeping about for a while now, lurking above them and watching them all, ready to snatch the bad children for not doing their chores. It’s stupid but a bit of fun and Shane is ready to ask exactly how she intended to catch something like a shadow when he takes in what she’s showing them.

They’re in the less used parts of the prison building, a part that backed onto the partially destroyed medical wing with a few cells on either side and crumbling walls part way down the block. At first Shane wants to reprimand Lizzie for even being in this part of the building, but then he’s caught off guard by what she’s showing them. There’s a basic cartoon trap set up, a stick holding up a box with an empty plastic plate beneath it, a few crumbs are scattered beneath it and the stick is attached to a long piece of string.

Letting out a laugh he can feel Rick smirking beside him, trying to hide his humour since Lizzie was scowling up at the pair of them as if this was serious business. “It’s not funny! I almost had him, look the food is gone.” She points out, walking over to the box and pointing beneath it.

“Lizzie, it’s a great trap it really is, but are you sure it was the shadow?” He doesn’t want to break the young girl’s pride, but this shadow business was going to have to stop if she was wasting food and time down here. “It could have just been rats, you know we’ve got a lot of them.” They try their best to keep the rodents out of their sleeping areas so it meant they stayed in these back parts of the prison away from the group.

Again the girl rolls her eyes, folding her arms and slumping her shoulders as she glares at them both. “It wasn’t a rat.” And she sounds so damned sure that Shane almost wants to agree that this shadow was real. “It was the shadow, I saw him and I fired at him. I must have hit him too because there’s a bunch of blood over here and there’s too much to be from a rat.” She points away beside one of the cells, indicating her gun on her belt and stomping over to show them.

“Lizzie there’s a lot of blood all over the place, are you sure it wasn’t here before?” Rick sighs, the pair of them walking back over to her, studying the small pool of blood she points to.

“I know what I saw!” Lizzie yells, stamping her foot and stuck in the awkward age between being and adult and a child, unsure of how to react to being told she was wrong. “It was the shadow! I was waiting here with the string to catch him, and he grabbed the food but before I could get him he ran away, so I fired at him and now there’s the blood to prove it.”

Shane bends down beside the pool of blood, frowning as he peers into the shadows of the hallway and notices something. “Rick, we got a trail here.” He mutters, nodding to the small spattering of blood that’s just beyond the blood pool. Further along the way there are more spots, leading away from them and the box trap into the parts of the prison they don’t go into.

“What?” And the smile is gone from Rick’s voice but when Lizzie speaks it’s full of excitement and a hint of smugness at being proven right.

“See I told you, he must have run off to hide after I wounded him.” She sounds so proud of herself, standing above two crouched police officers and looking smug.

Rick and he share a look between them, Shane running his tongue over his lips before glancing back to the blood trail. He doesn’t believe in the shadow, he’s not a kid, but a rat couldn’t have made that much of a mess. Rick knows it too and they come to a silent agreement between them before Rick speaks. “Hey Lizzie, we’ll go investigate, how about you go and tell the other kids about this? I’m sure they’d want to know that you almost got him.”

She looks so pleased that they believe her and the pair of them give her comforting smiles before standing, watching her skip away to find the other children and inform them of her success.

“So are we believing in this shadow now then Rick?” He asks, setting a hand on his side arm and finding his usual spot beside Rick as the other man pulls out his flashlight. They move together down the hall, Rick lighting up each spot of blood and leading them down into dark shadows, hunting for what had caused them. “I mean this is too much blood for a rat, and we know walker blood is more black. This blood looks like it came from someone alive.”

“Not someone.” Rick mutters, keeping his voice low, on edge as they get further away from the world they know. Beside them they check the cells, each one empty as the last and not giving them any clues. “Something. There can’t be another human in here without our knowledge. We’re not that blind. It’s probably a cat or a raccoon or something.”

Shane nods but he’s not sure he completely agrees. Sure he likes to think that they were observant enough to know if there was a random human living in their midst, but the amount of blood they’re finding and how certain Lizzie sounded makes him doubt it a little bit. Still he keeps his voice low and his eyes open for any movement, not wanting to be kept off guard. “Yeah, yeah I know man.”

He knew they were doing a good job taking care of their people. After the death of Lori and the birth of their daughter had brought them closer together, they’d made a vow not to lose anyone else to stupid mistakes. Whatever it is they need to find it and get rid of it and let the children keep their little fairy tale and everyone else safe.

They reach the end of the hall, the walls are crumbling a little around a single door, there’s no lights and the air smells stale with cold and a lack of life. At first Shane hopes to find a dead animal, but when he notes the smear of blood on the handle of the door he knows they’re looking for something bigger. No animals could open and close a door. Glancing to his partner he knows Rick had seen the blood and they share a silent nod as Shane reaches out for the handle.

Their weapons are out and held before them, Shane slams open the door and they move through together, covering each other as they scan the hospital hallway for signs of the intruder. There’s nothing except blood smears on the floor, a couple more drops and then nothing. He feels on edge, and he hates not knowing what they’re up against but there’s nothing here for them to hunt down. The trail has ended, they have nothing left to follow except the knowledge that something wasn’t right.

Taking out his own flashlight Shane begins circling the left side of the medical hallway, looking for any more fresh bloodstains as Rick does the same on the right. They’ve always been good partners and these sorts of moments really make it clear to him that no one other than Rick could work as well with him. They move in time, slow and steady, checking each corner and hidden nook and cranny to be sure there’s no one there.

They’re almost halfway down the hallway when he finds it, giving a low whistle for Rick to come over and keeping his weapon raised as he crouches to check out the little den. It’s nothing much, a couple of gurneys with some sheets draped over the top of it to make a crude kind of tent. There’s a scent of musk and Shane can tell that someone, probably a male has been squatting back here in their prison. Reaching for the sheet he nods to Rick, letting his partner keep his weapon raised he yanks aside the sheet, the two of them ready to take them down.

It’s empty.

Well it’s empty of life at least. There are signs of someone living there, blankets and cushions in a bundle, crumbs from food and a bottle of water stuffed amongst them. Someone is huddling here, staying in their prison without their knowledge and to think Lizzie had been down here and watching this person by herself. God anything could have happened and they had been shrugging it off as a child’s tale.

The guilt is overwhelming, and just as Shane is about to ask Rick what they should do there’s the sound of something clicking above them. He dives automatically, every fear and nightmare that had plagued him after the shooting rising up in his head as he tackles Rick down to the floor, to safety. They’re on their feet in a second, pointing their flashlights up to the ceiling and briefly catching the edge of a person before they run away from the light. There’s a snarl directed at them and Shane fires at whoever it is, not willing to wait for another bolt to be fired in their direction.

“Get back here!” Rick shouts, and they’re running, following the sounds of the shadow above them, scrambling along the vents and trying to hide from them. “Hey!”

They need to stop this and stop it now, and Shane knows the pair of them won’t give up until this is over. He covers behind Rick, making sure the shadow doesn’t double back on them and knowing there’s no way out the front except into their occupied area. As far as they knew this shadow wouldn’t go that far and if he did at least he would be outnumbered. Following Rick to the doorway they’d come through he can hear the sound of the shadow, a very real person in their midst. “Rick, you cover the door, he ain’t gone through the one at the end of the hall so we’ve got him trapped.”

His partner nods and though usually Rick would be the one leading the charge Shane wants him to stay back for the moment, at least until they knew what they were dealing with. The guilt from the shooting has never faded away and he’ll be damned if he ever let anything like that happen again. Carefully he makes his way through the shadows, checking everywhere he can and making sure he was ready to take down this son of a bitch.

“Shane behind you!”

He hears the yell from Rick but before he can urn around someone is on his back, growling and snarling in his ear like a rabid dog, legs gripping around his waist as fingers dig into his neck. It’s hard to breathe but he remembers his training and grabs at the wrists of his attacker, able to hear Rick making his way over and grunting through the pain. Spinning on his heels he slams backwards into the bars of one of the open cells, getting his attacker to yelp in pain and loosen his grip for a second.

It’s enough and Rick is there, grabbing the attacker and throwing him to the floor, letting Shane gasp for air as he kicks the shadow back. The asshole snarls, lashing out at them, there’s the sound of metal on leather and he knows that sound too well. “Knife!” He gasps out and Rick is prepared, keeping the light of the flashlight on the shadow and blinding him in a second.

The shadow yelps, staggering back and Shane can see the man is smeared in his own blood, one of his arms looks to have been shot but other than that he can’t tell anything. He’s a mass of hair and dirt, rags for clothes and moving in a way more animal than human. Before the shadow can lash out at Rick with the blade, Shane is shoving forward, kicking out at him, shoving him back into the open cell. Rick reads his mind and slams the cell door shut, letting it click into place as the shadow snarls and hits at the bars, lashing out from between them and trying to swipe at the pair of them.

Shane reaches out to Rick’s shoulder, a silent gesture of asking if he was alright and showing he himself was well after an attack. They’re both panting but neither can take their eyes of the man they’ve caught, in awe that not only was the shadow real, but he seems to be a cross between a man and an animal.

The shadow screams at them, yelling and rattling at the bars, climbing on the bed in the cell, yanking at the thin mattress there and tossing it at the bars, stabbing his knife through to try and reach them, howling and snarling in anger. He looks deranged, insane as he screams, barely human at all and all animal. His hair is matted, the stubble on his face is sparse but with knotted with God knows what, he’s dirty and Shane doesn’t know how he didn’t smell him before he saw him. The clothes he’s wearing are rags looking as if they were knotted together and self repaired, filthy and probably covered in fleas and ticks.

“What the hell.” Rick mutters and Shane can hear that his partner is going through the same thoughts as himself. Anger, confusion and needing some damned answers to everything. “Who the hell are you?” Rick’s got his gun out, keeping it pointed at the stranger even though they are separated by the bars of the cell, sometimes it helped to get answers when someone was threatened. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Shane keeps his flashlight shining on the shadow, watching as the man paces back and forth in front of them, gripping his knife tightly and glaring at them both. He prowls around the cell like a caged tiger, growling and snarling, trying to duck from the path of the gun and looking around the cell for a way out. He doesn’t say a single thing, the man doesn’t even make an attempt to answer them at all, instead the only noise he makes is to let out a low rumble in his chest.

“Answer me!” Rick yells, his voice echoing around the dark hallway and Shane watches as the shadow flinches, backing away from them into a crouch, pressed against the wall. He no longer looks aggressive, instead he’s rather defensive, hunched over himself and sinking low, pressed to the floor like a frightened cat. Shane cannot get a handle on this guy, he’s all over the place and making no sense at all, giving them no answers and leaving them in the dark.

“What the hell are we going to do man?” Shane asks, running his fingers through his hair and licking his lips in a nervous habit. “We gonna kill him? Cause if we are then we need to do it now and get it over and done with. Explain later once everyone is safe.”

“You think we should?” Rick asks him and he can almost feel this argument is a repeat of one they’ve had before at Hershel’s farm. He remembers Randall, he remembers being voted with by the group and still seen as the bad guy, he’s not going to let that happen again. “He ain’t answering us, there could be more of them hidden in here.”

Shaking his head he paces a little, keeping his eyes on the now trapped man and trying to weigh up their options. They could kill him and remove the threat but he knew how well that worked out last time. “He don’t exactly look like the social type Rick.” He feels a little bad speaking about the man as if he wasn’t there, but it’s not as if the shadow is very talkative and besides if he’d wanted a say in his fate he would have spoken up. “We could vote on it again? He’s not getting out of there anytime soon is he?”

Rick shrugs, pacing around the cell the shadow is locked in and Shane can hear that the closer he gets the more the shadow growls at him. It’s clear the shadow is scared, despite being pressed back into the wall he tries to back up further, keeping his squinting eyes trained on Rick as he moves. “He stays here. We lock this block down, keep a watch on it until the council can make a decision.”

Nodding he agrees with the plan, it’s reasonable and not built on any of the emotions they were feeling after having just been attacked by this man. “I’ll stay here, keep a watch on him for the time being.” He shrugs, glancing up to the ceiling and the lack of lights. “We can get the power on in here easily enough, and maybe I can get some answers out of him.”

There’s a moment of silence before Rick nods, gesturing for Shane to follow him and leaving the shadow trapped in the cell, growling quietly to himself as they lock the doors down behind them and leave the intruder in the dark.

Chapter Text

When Shane returns later that night the power is back on in the block and he’s armed with a shotgun. Rick locks down the door behind him, and though he has his own set of keys on him Shane doesn’t want to give the shadow any ideas of escape. Setting up a chair opposite the intruder’s cell he can hear the low growl from within and now they’ve got lights in the place he can see where the shadow has made himself at home in his cage.

It’s a replica of the nest he and Rick had found in the medical hallway, sheets draped over a bed frame resting on it’s side, making a small tent like structure for the shadow to hide in. The noise is coming from beneath the sheets and if he looks close enough Shane swears he can see the glint of a knife in the darkness under there. This man was definitely a danger to them at the moment and he was glad he’d brought the shotgun with him, if only for peace of mind.

He doesn’t intend to let this stranger intimidate him and as soon as he’s settled in his chair for the watch he’s glaring into the cell, wanting to know exactly what the hell this man was doing here. The best way to know your enemy was to get to know their space and right now he had a perfect view into the shadow’s space.

The cell is still a cell and the man hasn’t exactly had the best supplies to do as he wished but Shane can read between the lines. The tent has been made for the shadow to sleep on the floor, close down low to the ground instead of on the bunk he’d been provided with. Shane can see the structure has been made against the back wall, where the shadow had pressed himself earlier to back away from them both before. It’s not what he’d call good defensively, but the other man is hidden from view and if Shane didn’t know any better he might walk past not knowing anyone was there at all.

Sighing to himself he sits back, tilting back the chair onto two legs and watching the man hide in his cell. “Alright shadow, it’s just you and me for the night.” He tells him, uncaring if he gets an answer, he’s never minded the sound of his own voice. Letting the shotgun sit across his lap he watches the small movements beneath the makeshift tent, little twitches that tell him the shadow is alive and well and definitely listening to him even if he’s getting no response.

“Looks like it’s going to be a long one, going to feel even longer if you’re not going to answer any questions.” He muses, setting the chair back onto four legs and leaning forward, peering down into the cell and trying to peek beneath the sheets. Since the lights are back up and working everything is bright around them, but it seems their shadow has made himself a dark corner to hide in, somewhere to keep away from it all. It reminds him of a rat, sneaky and conniving, seemingly invisible but dangerous even if you couldn’t see it.

“So we’re going to play that game are we?” He smirks, able to see the reflection of the shadow’s eyes, a small glint in the darkness. “Alright well I was a cop before all this you know? I don’t need you to reply, I just need evidence to know you better.”

Standing from the chair he keeps the shotgun close, ignoring the snarl he gets as he moves past the cell and heading for the dividing door in the hallway. The place isn’t anywhere near as creepy now the lights are on, and he walks casually down the hallway finding scattered files and broken medical equipment over the floor. Stepping over the papers he makes his way to the shadow’s nest, crouching beside it and tugging aside the sheets.

It looks more like a dog bed than somewhere a human would reside and the smell is overwhelming for a second. Stale sweat and body odour, the stench of a man that clearly hasn’t washed in a long time. It’s disgusting but needs must and right now they had an intruder that they needed to understand better and find out about. There’s a few packs of food, some unopened cans and a bottle of water, clearly the shadow’s supplies stayed with him even when he slept, but that wasn’t enough for Shane right now.

Peeling aside one of the blankets the shadow slept on he uses the barrel of his shotgun to nudge through the items he finds there, unwilling to use his bare hands if he didn’t have to. There are cushions, a few medical scrubs, some clothing and most intriguingly one lonely brown file, neatly placed beneath it all in the corner. Scooting closer Shane grabs at it, fully aware that this had to be deliberate if the other files were simply scattered paperwork around the floor, maybe the shadow had been searching for this particular piece of paperwork?

Moving back from the nest to get away from the smell and potential bugs crawling within it he moves to rest against the wall, flicking open the file and frowning as he’s met with a prison medical file. There’s a photo in the top left corner, a mug shot of the patient cum prisoner in pale blue medical scrubs. At first Shane is confused as to why the shadow would possibly have this file, but then he sees it. The man in the photo is young, according to the paperwork he’s in his mid twenties, with dark blonde hair that was just long enough to fall in his eyes and a look that spoke of a hard life. He looks lost in the image, as if he’s unaware of what’s going on around him and it’s not until Shane looks closer that he realises he’s looking at a clean shaven, younger looking shadow.

Immediately he’s reading through the file, taking in details and remembering when he hated having to file this kind of paperwork back at the station. Words leap out at him as he reads the report, things he’s been trained to note when writing about people and though he may not understand it all, he can get the basics. Victim of severe child abuse. Psychological issues. Behavioural problems. Emotionally traumatised.

Patient #00893 has been the subject of physical, emotional and psychological abuse from father as well as neglected by mother. Affects of this on the patient include lowered intelligence, low self-esteem, trust issues, OCD tendencies, anxiety, emotional immaturity, quick temper and other various problems. Patient was arrested at the age of twenty-four after being found in possession of stolen goods and after examination from various doctors both medical and psychological was admitted to the medical wing of the West Georgia Correctional Facility to carry out his sentence and receive treatment for his condition.

Upon arrival at the Facility, Patient #00893 began showing signs of PTSD and did not react well to treatment, reacting violently towards other patients and members of staff. Upon the decision of Doctor Lewis, Patient #00893 was moved to solitary confinement for the duration of his sentence and treatment for the safety of himself and others.

Shane doesn’t wish to read any further and instead focuses on the most important piece of information he’s gained from the file. Getting to his feet he keeps the file with him, moving back into the other part of the hallway and heading back to his seat beside the cell that held their prisoner. Running his tongue over his lower lip he retakes his seat, peering at the shadow still hidden away and knowing he’s right to assume he knows the reason for this file being hidden away in his belongings.

Clearing his throat he holds open the file, pointing the page with the mug shot towards the cell and fully aware the shadow is watching from within his mini den. “Daryl?” He asks and he can see when there’s a sudden jerk beneath the sheets, as if every muscle in the shadow’s body has tensed all at once. There’s a small growl and before he knows what’s happening the other man darts out from his hiding spot, smacking against the bars between them and snarling at Shane through them.

For what it’s worth he doesn’t flinch, but he does sit back a little, making sure he’s got a hand on the shotgun and is ready to defend himself if he needs to. Taking a breath he watches the man now he’s out in the open, and takes a note of his appearance. He’s rough, dirty and stinking with matted hair and stubble that’s all over the place, Shane swears he can see something crawling over him and isn’t sure he wants to know if it’s fleas or lice. Instead he focuses on what he thinks he knows and tries to talk to the man instead of at him.

“That’s your name isn’t it?” He coaxes, moving slowly to lean on his knees and trying to meet the other man’s eyes. “Daryl Dixon?” It’s the name on the file, the name of the man he knows is before him locked in a cage for his own good.

The shadow growls to him, but he doesn’t reach for his knife or lash out. Daryl instead watches him, his pale blue eyes trained on him and only him as he listens. Shane knows he’s right and he’s kind of pleased when the man doesn’t move to the back of the cell, instead remaining at the bars, pressed against them and watching him patiently.

“Alright that’s a starting point.” He continues, moving slowly to set down the file on the floor, not wanting to startle the man into moving away again. It’s a technique he’s used to using with armed men, not crazy guys locked in a cell, but if it’s working he’s not going to knock it. Carefully he reaches beside the chair, going into the pack he’d bought with him and fishing out a pack of crackers and dip.

He shows off the packet, unsure if Daryl could read or even tell what it was, but he can see when the man’s eyes flick over to what he’s holding and he sits a little straighter. “You hungry Daryl?” He asks and that gets a response, Daryl moves to sit on his haunches, leaning through the bars a little and peering at the packet, clearly aware of what he was saying and that what Shane was brandishing must be food.

Alright so he may be of lower intelligence according to his file, but he clearly understood English and that was certainly good. Clearly he wasn’t responding due to lack of understanding, he either couldn’t or didn’t want to reply. Shane continues to keep his movements easy and slow, nothing too sharp or sudden as he moves from sitting in the chair to slide to the floor in front of it. Setting the pack of crackers and dip onto the floor he very slowly begins inching it towards the cell, scooting it across the floor until it’s within reach of Daryl. “It’s not much but it’s dinner.”

Some would possibly complain that he was wasting food on their prisoner but he was not going to let someone starve on his watch and neither would Rick. He keeps his eyes on Daryl, watching the way the man moves warily, as slowly and carefully as he had before and not taking his eyes off of Shane. It’s like watching an animal, and Shane tries not to seem too threatening as Daryl inches his fingers towards the cracker pack, not wanting to the man to starve because he moved and frightened him. Daryl snatches up the pack, clinging it to his chest as soon as it’s in the cell and backing away a few inches.

Shane can’t help but smile, relaxing a little and nodding in encouragement to him. Daryl eats like an animal too, ripping open the pack and diving in with dirty fingers, stuffing as much as he can in his mouth at one time and chomping down on the food noisily. It’s disgusting sure, but at least the man is fed, even if he is eating as if it’s the first time he’s seen food in a while.

Running his fingers through his hair Shane leans back on the chair, watching as Daryl begins licking at the remaining residue of the dip, pressing his face to the plastic packaging and letting his tongue delve into the traces left. He should feel grossed out by all of this and though a part of him is still wary of this stranger, he also feels sympathetic towards him after reading through the file.  

”You’ve been on your own for a long time haven’t you man?” He asks and he’s surprised when Daryl looks up at him, not tensing at all but just sitting, sucking on his fingers to get the last of the dip from them. The other man almost looks calm, sitting before him, watching him silently and sucking on his fingers. There’s still no answer but Shane moves to flick through the file again, running a finger down the page to note how many years ago the file was created.

Close enough to a decade in solitary confinement. That would be enough to break any man, but one who was already suffering from so much trauma before it all started was only going to get worse. Normally when it came to criminals he was always on the side of the law, if they had been found guilty, then they were. But this man before him just didn’t feel like a criminal. Sure he was sure the man could have killed them if they hadn’t been ready for his attack, but after reading the file, maybe he could see a different side to the story.

Daryl remains before him, chewing on his fingers and thumb despite there not being any food left on them and looking far too innocent to be deserving of being in here. But he knew looks could be deceiving. Sighing a little he decides he needs to know more and maybe he could get Daryl to speak if he’d gotten him to come out of his hidey hole.

“Yeah I bet that’s been tough huh? No wonder you were so quick to attack us.” He muses, fully aware of what to expect if you ever cornered a frightened dog. There had been call outs before and he remembers when no amount of baby talk would calm the hell hound they’d been asked to deal with. But as soon as they were caught, the dogs would be calm, not aggressive when they weren’t scared and he hoped this was a similar case. “You probably haven’t seen a live human since this whole thing started have you?”

The few prisoners they had met hadn’t had a clue about the outbreak, they’d been locked away in the canteen and had only survived because of a locked door. But Daryl? Then entire prison had been overrun and he knew there was only one way the man could have survived this long on his own. The same way they had learnt to survive; by taking down walkers and doing what was needed.

“You look like you’ve seen a few walkers though.” It must have been more than a few, other than the prisoners in the canteen they hadn’t seen a live human in the entire complex of the prison. Except for Daryl. So he had been alone and in a building crawling with walkers, surviving by himself and keeping hidden. No wonder he was afraid of them when they’d first arrived.

Daryl looks at him, still chewing on his fingers but there’s a small frown beneath the matted hair, a tiny crinkle on his forehead and Shane can tell that though he’s silent he’s also confused. “The biters?” He tries again, unsure if maybe a gesture would help explain. Sighing a little he holds out his arms, letting his mouth hang open and letting out a small moan in a mockery of a walker. He’s surprised when there’s a tiny noise from Daryl, a small cough, and he swore it was almost a laugh. Glancing up he sees Daryl is still focussed on him and no longer looking so confused, he takes that to mean he understands.

“The dead people you seen some of them huh?” Shane concludes, trying to imagine how well he would have coped if he’d been in the same situation as the other man. Probably nowhere near as well. “You taken some of them out?” He asks and it’s with surprise that he notices Daryl actually gives a small nod in reply. So the man definitely understood them, that was good, it gave them a good starting point.

Smiling brightly he makes sure to show that he’s pleased with the progress, they’d never get anywhere if the man didn’t know what was expected of him. “Good job.” And he’s not sure if he’s talking about the response or the knowledge that Daryl must have taken down plenty of walkers by himself. Watching Daryl he watches the man look away from him for a moment, picking at the threads on his ragged clothing and chewing on his nail. It’s almost as if he’s overwhelmed by the praise and Shane makes a note of that for the future.

“Gotta be good with that knife if you managed to survive all this time with only that.” He points out and Daryl huffs a little, running his hand over the hilt of the blade as if reminding himself it’s still there. Shane doesn’t intend to attack him, but he makes sure to keep a note of where the man’s hands are just in case and he doesn’t think he’ll be moving closer to the cell any time soon.

“We lost some of our group and they had guns.” Shane continues, moving to flick through the file and enjoying just having this conversation and being able to learn more about the other man simply from his reactions. “Says here you were a hunter before all of this, we could use one of them around here you know? We’ve been surviving off what we could find and grow ourselves but that’s not much.” He gives a lazy shrug, mainly thinking out loud to himself about a possible asset that Daryl could be. “Would be nice to have some meat for once.”

Damn he misses the taste of real meat, not canned shit that has been sitting for too long at room temperature. Sighing a little he remember seeing that deer in the woods, the one he’d been ready to take down before Rick had stopped him. That would have been good fresh meat to have and if he’d taken it down then Carl wouldn’t have shot and a lot of chaos would have been avoided.

He’s brought out of his thoughts when Daryl snarls at him, tense and crouched before him, no longer the relaxed man he was before but on edge and growling loudly. Shane doesn’t know what happened but he’s startled enough to check the door, making sure no one else or any walkers had gotten in without his knowledge. There’s nothing there and when he checks over Daryl again he notices that the man isn’t glaring at anything other than himself.

Glancing down at himself he tries to see what’s set him off and notices that he’s unconsciously gripped the shotgun tighter, remembering his grip on it before in front of the deer. It was enough of a threat to get Daryl backing away from him, pressing against the rear wall of the cell and growling with the knife back in his hand. Immediately Shane feels a fool and tries to correct his mistake.

“Hey it’s okay man, I’m not gonna hurt you, calm down.” He keeps his voice quiet in the darkness, staying on the floor, lower than Daryl and less threatening by not using his stature to intimidate. “Want me to put down the gun?” He asks, and nods along, watching Daryl and seeing how he reacts. There’s no tiny nod this time, but Shane pretends there was as he moves. “I can do that, see? If I put it down you can stop growling alright?” Christ he sounds like he’s talking to a dog but it’s helping and he can see that Daryl isn’t as tense as he sets the shotgun down beside him, far enough away to not be a threat. “I’m not gonna hurt you man.”

Daryl doesn’t come back to the bars but he does stop growling as soon as the weapon is put aside, and Shane sees that as a small success. He doesn’t want them to go backwards and though he doesn’t expect miracles, he does want some kind of progress if he’s going to be here watching this man. The council will be deciding his fate, but they were not the kind to make decisions without evidence and facts and right now he was trying to make a case for the man before him if only for peace of mind that this wasn’t another Randall incident.

Letting out a small breath he tries to get that easy feeling between them again, hunting through his pack and trying to find something to get the man willing to calm down again. There’s not much but rolling a bottle of water across the floor he watches it come to rest against the bars of the cell, and he can see when it catches Daryl’s attention. The man looks unsure and moves slowly again, moving back into a crouch as he heads across the cell to snatch up the bottle, keeping it close to his body as he watches Shane warily.

He keeps his hands in view of Daryl, pleased when the other man settles back at the front of the cell, staying closer than before and listening to him as he talks. “There are a few things you need to know about what’s happened to the prison.” He points out and he’s not sure how to explain a worldwide epidemic to a man that might possibly have fleas. So he sticks to what the man needs to know; about the prison and his immediate environment. “It’s ours now, me, Rick and our group of people, we live here now. There’s no other prisoners, no guards or officers, there’s just us and none of us are the enemy alright?”

Daryl seems too focussed on drinking his fill to look to Shane, pouring a handful of the water into his palm before burying his face in it, clearly enjoying the cool freshness against his skin. Shane watches as he shakes himself off like a dog before refitting the lid of the bottle and tucking the item down his shirt, clearly not intending to give it up anytime soon. He can understand that, water was something precious nowadays and it seemed Daryl knew that too.

“You’ve been watching the kids huh?” He tries again and this time Daryl does look up, cocking his head to the side and watching him as he continues. “Bet you were confused when you saw them for the first time. Well they live here too and we’re keeping them safe.” Daryl gives another little nod and he looks more interested now than he had before. Shane supposed it was a good point on Daryl’s behalf to remember that the kids had been talking about the shadow for weeks, and yet none of them had reported any injuries or being attacked. Maybe they’d imagined him to be a monster in the dark, but with walkers wandering around in the daylight they couldn’t be blamed for thinking the hidden monsters were worse.

Shane runs his fingers through his hair, glad he has Daryl’s attention but trying to explain in a way this man cum animal might understand. “That means that anything or anyone who is dangerous has to leave. Like the walkers that were in here.” He points out and he can see Daryl give a tiny nod again, clearly aware that walkers were bad and he seemed to know that bad and dangerous were wrong. At least if he had a sense of right and wrong that would make things easier.

“That includes you Daryl.” He points out and points in the man’s direction, satisfied when Daryl copies the motion, pointing to himself and tilting his head in question to Shane. “Yes, you. So what I’m saying is we need to know if you’re dangerous, because if you are we have to kick you out understand?” Daryl gives another small nod, dropping the crouch to sit on the floor properly, watching Shane but not making any move to defend himself verbally. “And out there, there’s more walkers, more danger and bad people.” Shane tries to explain further, feeling bad that he really doesn’t have enough knowledge of this man to make sure he understood.

Taking a moment he watches Daryl, seeing the way the man shakes his matted hair from his eyes and chews on his fingers, watching Shane in interest but not looking at all dangerous. He knew the man could fight yes, but if he wanted to hurt them, really hurt and attack them then he’d shown he had the ability and yet every single child had claimed to have seen him had never been injured.

“We want to stay here where it’s safe and I bet you do too man.” Shane sighs with a lazy shrug, rubbing at the back of his head. “So we need you to work with us, and prove that you’re not dangerous to us or anyone in our group. You can join us, live here with us if you’re not a danger and we can give you more food and keep you safe.” Daryl perks up at the mention of food and being kept safe, clearly aware of what’s the most important and Shane can understand that at least. “You understand?” He asks and Daryl gives a shrug, almost a copycat move of his own a moment earlier and he smirks at that.

There’s a small hiss of pain and Daryl flinches as if he’s been hit, grabbing his arm and even giving a small whimper as he clutches at himself. Shane tries to see what’s wrong, attempting to peer over but finding himself unable to see the wound the man is covering. He remembers Lizzie and her weapon, seeing the blood spattered on the floor and stating that she must have clipped the shadow with a bullet.

“Fuck I forgot you were hurt man.” He moves forward, instinctively wanting to help the injured man and freezing in place when he gets growled at loudly and Daryl stumbles back with a flinch. Shane stays in place, cursing himself for the stupid move and wishing he could take it back. “Hey man it’s okay, I’m not gonna hurt you remember?” He keeps his voice low, calm and safe, nothing threatening about it and he stays as still as he can when Daryl watches him with wary eyes.

The growling stops and he’s grateful for that, but Daryl doesn’t move any closer, instead he turns his attention to the wound on his arm, moving to lick at when it seeps a little blood from being reopened. “No don’t do that man that’s gross.” He sighs, wanting to help but knowing there was no way he could manage to get antiseptic and bandages on the other man anytime soon. All he could hope was that the dirt caked to Daryl wouldn’t cause an infection. Hunting through his bag he grabs a scrap of cloth, holding it out to the other man and waving it a little. “Here, use this to wrap it.”

Daryl growls again and Shane takes it as a hint to place the cloth on the floor, scooting back and away from it as Daryl snatches it up for himself, retreating to the safety of his nest and using his fingers and teeth to bind the fabric around the wound. It’s a small thing but Shane takes it as a good sign that Daryl is taking things from him at all, and he can just hope that the progress is going to continue to the point that he can have a real conversation that’s not so one sided. He watches the man care for himself for a while, curling inside of his nest of sheets but peeking out enough to continue watching Shane.

He’s not aggressive or abrasive, the only time he’s growled is when he was afraid or wary of him, and Shane supposes he can understand that. Daryl was in isolation before all of this even started, a victim of severe child abuse and neglect, locked away to stop being a problem when he was too difficult for anyone to fix. Now somehow despite it all he’d survived in a prison full of walkers, defended himself against something that had taken down the army and now they were going to put him down because he didn’t speak? It didn’t seem fair to Shane, not when he could only see a man trying to defend himself.

“You’re not dangerous at all are you man?” When he speaks he makes sure to keep his voice low, not wanting to startle Daryl again when he’s managed to scare the man just now. “You’re just scared and not used to being around people is all.”  He sighs, flicking back through the file again. “You’re not here for anything major, we had inmates join the group that have done worse than this.” Theft, possession of stolen goods, destruction of private property, trespassing and violent behaviour was what most teens did, not hardcore criminals. “You’re just here because no one else knew what to do with you.” He mutters and watches as Daryl curls himself up a little tighter, into a small ball that spoke of fear, not aggression.

He doesn’t know this man, all he has is a file and a feral man in a cage, but there’s something inside of himself that knows killing Daryl Dixon would not be the right thing to do. Now he just had to convince the council that he wasn’t insane and that Daryl could be tamed and an asset to the group.

Chapter Text

“Rick just come and talk to him, I swear I’m not making this shit up.” Shane walks alongside his partner, eager to get him to engage in this problem and help him.

Rick is uneasy, he can see it in the way the man’s shoulders are tense and how he won’t quite meet his eye until Shane almost forces him to. “Shane we’ve got a good thing here. We’re all safe, we’re fed, why would you want to let someone join us who’s potentially dangerous?”

“Everyone who joins us is potentially dangerous.” He points out, waving an arm about the yard and indicating all the new members who will about, integrating with their family, their original group seamlessly. “Every time we let new people in we don’t know who they are, we don’t know if they’re lying or how they survived this long. We let the prisoners stay with us and they’d done worse than him, he’s just a little different is all. You gonna punish him for that?” Shane asks and he can see that Rick is so unsure about this decision, licking at his lips he leans a bit closer, wanting to put his partner at ease if he could.

The other man gives a sigh, running his fingers through his hair before answering. “Shane I just want what’s best for the group.” He knows it’s true, if there was one thing he knew it was that Rick always wanted to save everyone and though they’d broken their rule of not killing the living, they only killed when they had to. To protect their own.

“I know that and I do too.” Shane leans a little closer, aware of their presence in public and not wanting to push too far since Rick still wasn’t confident in public displays of their new progression in their relationship. “I just think this could work and I don’t want to end a man’s life just because we weren’t willing to give him a chance. You heard the council, we’ve got a month to get through to him and I can’t do it alone man.” Resting his forehead against his partner’s he knows it’s a cheap shot, but there’s always a way to get through to Rick by tugging on his loyalty. “I need you with me on this Rick.”

There’s a moment where he can see his partner cursing himself, hating how easily Shane can bring him around to his way of thinking but Shane knew it worked both ways. Rick knew this had to mean something to him if he was willing to push this much and damn he loved being able to coax him around to his side.

Finally with another sigh Rick gives a half assed shrug, the kind that admitted to agreement without saying so. Shane would take it for now. “You really think we can get him back to normal? Hershel read his file and if Daryl has been through so much since a young age he said he might be too fucked up to get back to normal.”

Hitching up the backpack he’s got stuffed full of supplies for what he hopes to accomplish today Shane shakes his head, gazing around their prison as he leads Rick towards the wing where Daryl was locked up. “What’s normal nowadays Rick? We stab the dead in the head to survive and live in a prison because it’s the safest place.” Nodding towards the doors he indicates their prisoner and current topic of their discussion. “He can do that, he can defend himself and others and hunt and who knows, he could be a valuable asset to the group. Just come talk to him, you’ll see what I mean, he’s not dangerous he’s just different.”

They lean against the door for a moment, lingering outside of the block and Shane can see the way Rick yearns to head back over to the garden. Things were simpler over there, in the life where he could focus on growing food and not having to choose a man’s fate. But this was the hand that had been dealt them and Shane really doesn’t want to do this alone, not if he doesn’t have to.

“Alright, we’ve got a month, no time like the present.” Rick gives in and Shane can’t help but smirk at getting his own way yet again. Taking out his set of keys he begins unlocking the door to the sealed wing, still listening to Rick. “But if he hurts anyone then he’s gone, no second chances.”

“Deal, but he won’t.” Because second chances couldn’t be given anymore, they had no time for them nowadays. “I mean God knows how long he’d been round the kids and he never hurt any of them. When it came to us I think he was just scared and trying to defend himself.” Shoving open the door he drags it shut behind himself, going to lock it up again to keep them sealed before he hears another voice echo out from the hallway before them.

“Come on, here shadow. Here shadow, you want some food? I brought you an apple today.” Crouched beside the cell was Lizzie, with no fear on her face as she sat as close as possible, holding out the fruit to the ragged looking man, her whole arm extended into the cell. A panic grabs at Shane’s chest and though he wants to defend Daryl, he also doesn’t know this man and there’s the fear of what he could do when he sees Lizzie like that.

“Lizzie!” Instantly they’re running over, he and Rick holding tightly to their guns, grabbing at the girl and yanking her back from the cell, ignoring the way Daryl stops from creeping inch by inch across the cell and darts back inside his nest.

Rick has his gun out, held to his side but ready to fire as his eyes scan over the girl, looking for injury or anything to sentence Daryl to his fate. “What the hell are you doing down here? Get away from him this instant!” His partner snaps, keeping Lizzie back, and Shane watches as the girl snatches her arm away, glaring at Rick and daring to take a step back towards the cell.

“Why? He’s not going to hurt me.” Lizzie has her arms folded, looking annoyed rather than scared, glaring up at Rick before turning back to the cell and where Daryl is peering at them all from his mass of blankets. “Besides I found him, he was my shadow first and I heard you grown ups all talking about him like he’s dangerous.” Ignoring Rick’s grabbing hand she pushes him away, moving back towards the cell and resting on the bars, smiling softly to Daryl and not scare at all. “He’s not dangerous at all can’t you see that? He’s just different and it’s not fair to keep him locked up in a cage.”

Shane can see that Rick wants to drag her outside to where it’s safe, snatch her up and keep her away from any and all danger, but Lizzie was a stubborn thing and he didn’t want to cause more tension around Daryl’s presence than he had to. Stepping closer to her Shane leans on the bars beside her, keeping his eye on Daryl and holding out a hand for Rick to back away a moment.

Despite the progress he’s made with Daryl he keeps an eye on the man, ready to shove Lizzie back if need be and keep her safe from any attack. Daryl still had a knife after all and all it took was one swipe or stab to cause massive damage. “We know that, that’s why we’re going to try and get him to join the group.” He reassures the girl, wanting to be open and honest with her, because sometimes kids shouldn’t be hidden away from the truth. “We want him to stay here where it’s safe but there are some rules we got to get him used to first.”

It seems to satisfy Lizzie, because after watching his face for a moment she nods, turning back to where Daryl remains unsure whether to dart out and grab the apple that had fallen into his cell. “Good, because he’s a good shadow aren’t you?” She asks Daryl, and as if nothing had happened she’s smiling again, waving to the feral man and wiggling her fingers in a beckoning motion. “He’s not going to hurt nobody.”

He can hear behind him where Rick paces a few feet, setting his gun back in his holster, but keeping his hand on it, always ready and waiting for an attack. This is not how he wanted to start Rick’s real introduction to Daryl, but it had happened, and he’d have to find a way to calm the fear from his partner as well as he could. “Okay Lizzie, why don’t you go and find Micah and go play? We’ll take care of him for a while.” He nods to Rick and isn’t surprised when the other man can’t meet his eyes, pacing still and looking even more uncertain than before about all of this.

“Fine, but no scaring him anymore.” Lizzie tries to threaten the pair of them, not turning away until they’ve both nodded in agreement. She then turns back to the cell, smiling brightly, nothing but sweetness and kindness, the innocence of her age shining through as she wiggles her fingers to Daryl again. “I’ll be back later shadow, Rick and Shane are nice though so be good for them okay?”

There’s no reply from Daryl but Lizzie heads off anyway with a nod as if she’d heard one, using the door this time and Rick follows her. Shane can hear as he gives her a quick scolding for being in there alone and Shane knows that later on he’ll be interrogating the girl about her own safety. Right now though they’ve got other problems to deal with and Shane remains leaning on the bars, not moving away from how close he was and watching as Daryl inches back out from his nest.

Rick takes his time bolting the door and locking it, checking and double-checking the locks before he pads back over, thumbs hooked on his belt and looking a mix between frustrated and worried. “I thought you locked this place down properly?” He asks and Shane nods as he turns to face him, but doesn’t move back from the cell, not when it’s the closest he’s gotten and Daryl was inching closer to the fallen fruit.

“I did, we’ll have to find out how she got in here and block it up. You know how kids are Rick, always getting in where they shouldn’t be.” Running his fingers through his hair he knows Rick is just on edge about all of this, his partner didn’t want to bear the weight of all their choices on his shoulders but Shane needed him in this now to help out.

“I’m just glad nothing happened, it’s too dangerous for her to be in here, especially by herself.” Rick looks so lost, his shoulders slumped almost in defeat already and Shane doesn’t care about the progress with Daryl for a moment, all he cares about is his best friend before him.

Stepping towards Rick he moves to cup the back of his neck, bringing them closer and just holding Rick against him for a moment. “You heard her Rick, she doesn’t see Daryl as a danger, in fact she seemed pretty comfortable around him and he around her. I don’t think we’ve got to worry about him hurting the kids.” He soothes, wanting to take the ache from the other man’s chest and give him all the reassurance in the world that this was going to work.

“I don’t know about this Shane…”

“Just give it a chance Rick, please?” He asks and takes the moment to press his lips against Rick’s in a soft kiss. Away from prying eyes they could take the moment to give in and having Rick so caught up and stressed always made him want to take away the tension anyway he could. Rick sighs in his arms but kisses back, the two of them holding each other briefly, sharing this moment together. “For me?” He nips a little at Rick’s lower lip before kissing him again, letting his tongue trail over where he’d pressed his teeth and enjoying the light shiver than runs up Rick’s body.

It’s only the sound of a small but confused whine from behind him that makes Shane pull away.

Honestly for a moment there he’d forgotten that Daryl even existed he was so wrapped up in Rick, but now it all came back to him and he was pulling away from Rick with a gentle and apologetic smile. Turning back to the cage Shane slips away from Rick, moving back to where he’d been before and not willing to give an inch if Daryl had been comfortable with Lizzie being so close.

Daryl doesn’t look as wary as before, but Shane can see the way the man keeps glancing over at Rick, clearly uncertain as to why he was here. He supposes it hadn’t been the best way for Rick to make a good impression, Daryl really didn’t seem to like loud noises around him, but Rick had been in the right to yell out for Lizzie’s safety. Leaning on the bars he watches as Daryl fidgets with the apple in his hands, looking uncertain as to whether he was allowed to eat it and not stuffing his face like he had before when Shane had given him food.

He looks so confused by it all today, crouched on the floor with the apple and glancing between Shane and Rick, watching them both and clearly on high alert. Still he was out in the open and Shane took that as a good sign. Gesturing behind him for Rick to take up his chair from before he smiles to Daryl, crouching to get down to his level and trying to keep his voice the same gentle lulling tone from before.

“Hey bud, how’re you doin’ today?” Shane doesn’t expect an answer and he doesn’t get one, but Daryl doesn’t flinch back, he just watches him with unblinking eyes and that’s good enough. “Been talking to Lizzie I see, she bring you something good to eat? That’s good man, we can’t have you going hungry down here can we now?” Daryl glances down to the apple in his hands, turning the thing between his fingers before lifting it for Shane to see. He gives a nod of understanding and Daryl seems to take that as a sign that it’s acceptable for him to have the fruit and takes a healthy bite through the flesh.

Shane lets the man eat a few bites, watching as he laps at the juice spilled and hums in delight at the taste of fresh fruit. Clearing his throat a little he’s glad when he catches Daryl’s attention but doesn’t startle him, pointing behind himself to Rick but keeping his voice steady. “That’s Rick, you remember he was down here before? He’s sorry about having to tackle you and everything, but he was scared, just like you were scared of us remember?” He coaxes and when Daryl actually looks over at Rick properly he follows his gaze, smirking a little at the way Rick fidgets under their gaze.

“Yeah sorry Daryl.” Rick almost coughs out, his voice tight and awkward, feeling the third wheel and unsure how to react to the situation. It makes Shane want to kiss his again and ease that feeling, but now’s not the time. Maybe later in the privacy of a blocked out cell with everyone else asleep around them.  

Turning back to Daryl he moves slowly, bringing the rucksack around to his front and digging through it for the items he has brought for the day. “I brought you something else today to help with your arm where you hurt it. If you come over here I can patch it up for you and make sure it doesn’t get any worse.” He gestures for Daryl to come closer, using the same mimicking motions that Lizzie had used, aware that maybe the familiar beckoning might help Daryl understand.

From within the cell Daryl continues munching through his apple, hunched over himself and watching Shane quietly, letting his tongue dart out to catch the juice of the apple that slips down to his wrist. He knows Daryl understands him because the man’s free hand comes up to the injury on his forearm, tugging where the rag was tied about it. Shane is patient, as patient as he can be and focussing on Daryl’s body language to try and understand the mute man better.

When his gaze darts across to Rick a couple of times and he hunches over himself again, Shane follows his gaze and hopes he understands the problem. “Rick can put down the gun if you want, but you have to put the knife down too and come over to the bars so I can fix it up, can’t reach if you’re over there can I?” He shrugs easily, nodding for Rick to remove his gun and set it aside, pleased when his partner trusts him enough not to question this technique. That gets Daryl looking to him again and Shane can see when he relaxes a little, uncurling from where he’s sat and peering over to the items Shane’s holding.

It’s nothing much, just an alcohol wipe and a self-adhesive patch, but it’s better than a disgusting rag and besides, he wanted to gain Daryl’s trust and the best way to do that was to help his as much as he could. If he could prove to Daryl that he was helping and not hurting then maybe they could take bigger steps towards their common goal of getting him to stay here with them.

Daryl moves slowly, taking the hilt of the knife and slipping it free from his belt, he watches Shane the entire time as he sets it aside, resting the blade on the mass of blankets before moving away from it. Shane is impressed that it’s working so well and watches as Daryl begins to ever so slowly creep towards him. Still clutching at the half eaten apple Daryl crawls over on his hands and knees before coming to a stop before him, right next to the bars.

It’s a huge step forward and Shane can’t help the grin that crosses his face at the progress they’ve made so easily. Daryl still looks wary, but he’s there, within touching distance if Shane reached out a little and there’s nothing more than some metal bars and a lifetime’s worth of abuse separating them both.

“Good job bud, see now I can clean it up for you and get a real bandage on it.” And it shouldn’t mean so much to see Daryl flush at that, turning away a little and even in the awful lighting of the hallway he swears he can see a blush on the other man’s cheeks beneath the filthy stubble. Keeping his voice calm and gentle he continues, watching Daryl the whole time and talking him through it. “It’s going to make you feel much better, but first it might sting a bit okay? Don’t be scared, it’s just a little bit of hurt and then it feels much better alright?” Ripping open the alcohol wipe packet he brings it out, letting Daryl peer at it a little before wiping it over his own arm, giving a tiny hiss before smiling. Heck it seemed he was getting better at this because when he beckons for Daryl to hold out his injured arm, the other man does it immediately. “Good job.” And there he is turning away again and ducking his head. “Okay I’ll do it on three so you’re ready for it.”

Unknotting the previous attempt of Daryl’s to fix the wound he sets the rag aside and let’s Daryl rest his arm on the cross bar, not wanting to hold him steady and risk making him feel trapped. The other man is trembling a little but he ignores it, taking the wipe and a deep breath before starting the countdown. “One, two, three.” Pressing the wipe to the wound he’s not surprised when Daryl gives a hiss and yanks his arm back inside the cell, snarling a little at the sharp burn of pain on his injury.

“It’s okay, it’s okay Daryl, and you’re fine see?” Shane babbles, desperate not to ruin their progress and holding back from grabbing at the man in the cell. It wouldn’t help to keep him here against his will, but fuck he didn’t want him retreating again. Daryl doesn’t edge too far back, and Shane is pleased when he simply curls the injured arm to his chest, ducking his head a little before Shane can call out a warning fast enough. “Don’t lick it!”

Daryl lets out a choked noise of disgust, gagging on the vile taste now on his tongue and shaking his head with his tongue out, as if the air would cleanse him of the taste. “Yeah see? Tastes gross but it’s okay now right?” He pushes, watching as Daryl goes back to sucking on the half eaten apple, using the fruit’s juices to soothe the flavour from his mouth. Still he give a loose shrug and Shane figures that means that the wound no longer hurt as much as before. “So I can put a bandage on it to fix it now and it’ll be all better.”

Shane makes sure to move slowly, holding out the patch and watching as Daryl cautiously holds out his arm again, clearly ready to snatch it back if he had to. The man remains gnawing on his apple, but his eyes never leave Shane as he carefully sticks the patch over the wound, smoothing it down with gentle fingers and a smile.

“Good job, see we’ll have you ready to join the group in no time.” Withdrawing his fingers he smiles when Daryl huffs a little, taking his arm back and inspecting the new bandage before going back to his apple. He’s blushing again, not able to look at Shane and curling in on himself but not moving back from the bars. Compliments really seemed to be a way to get Daryl reacting so he’d keep doing it as long as he needed to.

Glancing over his shoulder he sees Rick watching them, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and looking completely flabbergasted over what he’s just witnessed. There had been no fight, Daryl had only growled when in pain and scared and here Shane was merely inches away from the eating man. Still he hadn’t brought the man here just to observe, they needed to work as a team here. “Rick why don’t you tell Daryl about what the council has decided?”

Rick looks stunned, and Shane gives him a nod, something to give him the nerve to do what he asked. Daryl needed to be reassured that Rick wasn’t a treat and that he could trust him and that wasn’t going to happen if Rick stayed a silent observer. His partner clears his throat, getting Daryl’s attention and Shane makes sure to stay where he is as he goes through the rucksack, a calming presence for both involved right now.

“We want you to join our group.” Rick begins and Shane notes that he’s using the same easy tone the other man uses with Carl when he’s trying to explain something to him. It works and Shane can see that Daryl is listening even as he starts gnawing on the apple core. “But you can’t join like this. If you want to stay here then we need to be able to trust you and you need to trust us understand? So we’re going to be keeping an eye on you and making sure that you’re…stable enough to live here.” Rick trails off and Shane figures it’s a good starting point.

“Like I said before remember?” He takes over, glad when Daryl’s attention moves to him and he seems as calm as he’s ever been with both he and Rick there. “We keep the bad guys out of the prison and the good guys in here where it’s safe. So if you want to stay then you have to prove to us that you’re a good guy right? And we have to show you we’re good guys as well.” He reiterates, and he’s rewarded with a slow but sure nod from Daryl, one of understanding.

It’s a great step forward and Shane grins over it, able to feel the way Rick isn’t so tense anymore. Smiling back to his partner he nods for him to say something, to continue and keep Daryl getting used to the pair of them. Rick nods, running his tongue over his lower lip with a small smile and Shane waves the bar of soap he’d brought with him, giving him something to mention and one of his ideas. “I think I great way to build trust would be for you to have a wash don’t you?”

Shane is ready to take the time to explain the basics to Daryl, but he’s stopped from doing so when the man beside him bolts away, scrabbling against the floor and bundling himself into his blankets. He sees the way Daryl snatches back up the knife and curls in on himself with a snarl, but the part that really stuns him is when Daryl finally speaks.

“No!”

Chapter Text

The shouted word hangs in the air around them, sure and so sudden that it takes Shane a while to realise that Daryl has spoken. This whole time he hadn’t even been sure if the man could speak, yet it seems Daryl has just been silent through choice this whole time. He can feel the tension in the hallway they’re in rise again when Daryl curls in on himself with the knife, looking afraid of them all over again and hiding for his own protection. Every step of success he’d made falls away and he feels as if he’s right back at square one again.

Beside him he can feel Rick, up from the chair and standing by him, a hand on his shoulder and being the support and steadiness he needs right now. “Shane has he spoken before?” Rick mutters and Shane has to shake his head in response but he can’t seem to draw his eyes away from Daryl.

Crouching by the bars they both stay there, close enough to watch Daryl but not invading the space of his cage. Licking over his lips Shane just knows that he wants to ease the fear he can see in Daryl’s eyes and right now it’s all he can see in them. Remembering Daryl’s reaction from before he keeps his voice low when he speaks, glad the other man isn’t growling but wanting him back in front of himself where he’d been before. “Hey good job bud, good job for talking.” He murmurs and he can see when Daryl pauses for a moment, his fingers clenching around the knife before loosening his grip at the compliment. Daryl fidgets a little, he’s flushed and for a second he averts his gaze as if embarrassed. “See how much better we understand you when you use words?”

There’s a moment where he gets nothing from Daryl, and he and Rick are left waiting with baited breath for something to happen because dammit he is not giving up on this, not when they’d made so much progress today. When Daryl finally gives a tiny shrug he considers it progression and smiles a little to him encouragingly.

Rick presses against his side, eager to help and Shane is pleased that the other man wants to be a part of this. When he speaks his voice is an imitations of Shane’s, low and easy, nothing threatening about it as he talks to Daryl. “Why don’t you want a wash Daryl?” He asks and there’s nothing but more silence in response for a while.

“Come on bud, we can’t help unless you tell us.” Shane coaxes, almost on his knees, practically begging for a response, for just something to make this all worth it. He wants to help Daryl, he wants to save this man from being executed because he knows he doesn’t deserve to die after everything he’s survived so far but to do that they need to have an answer and a way to make this work. “Please tell us Daryl.”

It takes a while longer but he can see Daryl thinking in his nest, almost as if he’s struggling for the words to say and how to explain it all. There’s a small noise of annoyance and he can see that Daryl is chewing on his grimy fingers again, small and afraid of them and their response. He tries to be patient, he can feel Rick tense beside him and it’s such a relief when Daryl’s small voice gives a reply. “No hose.”

Shaking his head he tries to understand exactly what Daryl means but Rick is there nudging his side, nodding to the file left by the chair and muttering in his ear. “Punishment. He was sprayed with a hose for punishment or when he resisted.”

“Fuck.” It’s no wonder he’s terrified then, Shane wouldn’t be looking forward to having any water near himself if he’d been continually sprayed with a hose when he didn’t comply. Watching Daryl he meets his eyes, and he can see nothing but fear in them as he watches them both back. “Daryl, I swear there’s no hose.” He tries to explain but Daryl is shaking his head, backing away until he’s backed into the wall of the cell and Shane can see he’s trembling as he mutters around the fingers still in his mouth.

“Hose ‘s for bad.” Daryl mumbles, body hunched over in on himself and pressing lower to the floor. “‘m not bad. ‘m good.” He whines and Shane wants to latch onto that thought and use it to help.

“Yeah you are, you’re doing real good today right Rick?” He presses, leaning against the bars and letting an arm rest inside the cell now as Rick nods beside him. Daryl watches but doesn’t protest and he tries to use the same motions as Lizzie had before to beckon him closer. “You’re not bad, you’re good.” Shane doesn’t care how stupid he sounds trying to convince a full grown man that he was good, but if it’ll help then he’ll do anything. “There’s no hose Daryl, I was talking about having a shower and getting yourself clean.” He explains and Daryl cocks his head to the side as if considering the idea to himself.

“No hose?”

“Promise, no hose.” Shane smiles to him, still with his arm outstretched and beckoning him forwards, glad when he sees Daryl’s grip relinquish on the knife entirely. That really was a step in the right direction and if Daryl didn’t feel threatened then maybe they could get somewhere with this. “We just want to let you get clean, wouldn’t it be nice to get clean?” Daryl shrugs at him but shifts a bit forwards away from the wall.

“We could cut off that nasty hair and get you a shave, get some clean clothes for you and it’ll make you feel a lot better, plus you won’t smell so bad.” Rick adds and Shane can see the moment Daryl freezes on the spot and stops moving towards them.

“Smell bad?” Daryl shakes his head again, growling a little, chewing on his fingers and looking at them both in confusion. “Not bad, ‘m good.” He mutters, cocking his head to the side and Shane would chuckle over Daryl’s misunderstanding if he wasn’t so scared to move and ruin their progress.

“Then let’s get rid of the bad huh?” Rick adds, not dismissing Daryl or telling him he was wrong, but using his mistake to his advantage. “You’re good Daryl, but the smell is bad and you don’t want to be covered in bad smell do you?” That seems to work, Daryl grasps the concept and shakes his head to them, taking another step forward, moving closer until Shane can brush his fingers on the other man’s shoulder.

“Good job.” He immediately croons, aware that even just complimenting the smallest things could help the trust between them grow more and more. Daryl ducks his head with a small shy smile and damn how could this man ever be a danger to anybody? “Good job buddy, now shall we get you into a shower and get you all cleaned up?”

Daryl hesitates, glancing at them both, chewing on his thumbnail and looking back to the knife still buried in his bed area. “We’ll protect you.” Rick says, reaching out his own hand into the cell alongside Shane’s, open palmed and honest. “Ain’t no one gonna hurt you whilst we’re around alright? No walkers, no bad guys, no one.”

And for whatever reason it works, Daryl doesn’t meet their eyes but he leans against their open palms, it’s not much but it’s a sign of trust that he was willing to let them touch him. “Good job buddy.” Shane repeats, not pushing to touch anymore but just allowing his hand to remain where it is and let Daryl do as he wishes. “Now if we let you out of the cell you’re gonna keep being good for us aren’t you buddy?” Daryl nods, still chewing on his thumb but the man was unarmed, if nothing else he knew he and Rick could handle him between them.

It’s a risk but it’s a calculated one, one they can handle if it all goes wrong and besides if it went right then they would be better off for it. Rick is the one who moves, slowly and without any sudden movements as he takes the keys to unlock the cell, leaving Shane to keep his hand on Daryl’s side and keep him calm. The cell door opens and Daryl doesn’t bolt which is a good sign and it takes Shane giving him a small nod and nudging at his side to get Daryl moving to leave his space.

He can understand his reluctance, the cell was Daryl’s space and he knew he was safe there, the bars didn’t only protect them from Daryl, it worked the other way too. So it was a big step and Shane is strangely proud when Daryl takes it, crossing the doorway to the cell and standing awkwardly in the hallway with them. “Good job.” Rick grabs up the rucksack from the floor before he nods and leads the way down the hall, the two of them moving deeper into the hospital wing and towards the shower room there with Daryl trailing behind. He’s not worried about an attack from behind, Daryl is still chewing on his thumb and shuffling after them, looking lost and afraid instead of planning an attack.

The water is on and though it may not be the hottest it’s at least lukewarm and better than a cold spray down with a hose. Shane sets up one of the shower heads, getting it to the best temperature he can and running his hand beneath the spray in a show of it not being dangerous at all for Daryl. “You ready for this bud?”

Daryl huffs a little, fidgeting on his feet, shuffling from side to side and not letting his thumb leave his mouth. He seems at least a little intrigued with the water, he probably hasn’t seen a shower in so long he’s still a little wary and Shane can understand that. Rick moves to sit on the bench on the other side of the room, setting the rucksack beside him and taking out their supplies, a dry towel, some clean scrubs and a few washrags with a bar of soap. Alongside with a pair of scissors and the clippers they’d picked up with some fresh batteries. It’s not a lot but it’s more than Daryl had before.

“You alright there bud?” Shane asks, moving a little closer to Daryl and wiping the dampness on his hand off on his jeans. Daryl looks lost, gives a small shrug and Shane decides that’s enough to let him step in to help. “Okay first thing’s first, let’s get rid of these clothes huh?” He doesn’t touch Daryl but he gestures for him to remove the clothing, glad when the other man complies but cringing when he sees various bugs and bits of dirt flake off of him. It’s disgusting and maybe, just maybe he can see why they used to spray Daryl down with a hose. “Good job.”

The clothes are abandoned in a pile on the floor and Shane knows he’s going to be burning them as soon a possible, but right now he had a naked but filthy man before him to deal with. Rick tosses over the soap and rag and Shane lathers it up for Daryl, nodding for the man to step beneath the spray of the water with a smile. Sure it’s weird being in a shower room with one naked man and his partner, but he killed walkers every day, he wasn’t one to complain when things got weird.

When Daryl finally takes the final step beneath the spray he can see the change in the other man. Daryl makes a noise along the lines of a laugh and there’s a grin on his face as he arches beneath the water, opening his mouth and letting the spray fall on his face. It’s as if he’s in heaven and Shane can’t help but smile at the sight, noting that Rick was doing the same from his place on the bench.

Daryl presses his palms against the wall, ducking his head in the spray, spitting water to the drain and watching the grime wash down between his toes. Most of the dirt and filth comes off easily enough, allowing Shane to see the tone of Daryl’s skin and that the man had tattoos all over him. He’s still dirty, but it’s a more manageable amount of dirt and Shane holds out the soapy rag to him, waiting until Daryl notices instead of forcing it on him. “Here you go bud, get yourself nice and clean.”

The cloth is taken from his hands, but Daryl seems far too enthralled with the water to be skittish about letting his fingers brush over Shane’s. Smirking at the behaviour Shane moves to perch besides Rick, leaning on his knees and keeping an eye on Daryl as the man scrubs himself beneath the water. “You’d think he’d never seen a shower before.”

Rick hums out a note of agreement and leans into his side, still wary but Shane can understand that completely. To him Daryl doesn’t seem a threat at all, but after everything that had happened Rick didn’t take any chances. “Smelt like it too. Thank God we’re fixing that.”

Shane agrees with that, smiling as Daryl bounces on his toes, scrubbing at himself with the washcloth. “I know man, we’ve gotta burn those clothes and get him clean sheets for his bed. I ain’t getting him clean and then letting him get dirty all over again.”

“You sound like I did when Carl was little.” Rick laughs, and Shane enjoys this, the quiet joy in sharing time with his best friend and partner.

“Feels a bit like being a parent I guess. I don’t think he really knows how to look after himself.” He muses, watching as Daryl washes his face, the water over him finally running almost clean over him. “Think we’re going to be able to handle this?”

His partner shrugs, Rick scratching at his growing beard before sorting through their assorted items. “We can keep everyone else alive through all of this, why not Daryl too?” It’s a fair statement, they’ve been through worse so what was a feral man with issues? Nothing more than a challenge.

He’s glad to hear it and moves to stand again, grabbing the clean towels when Daryl looks as clean as he’s going to get. “Hey bud good job at getting clean. You all ready to get into some clean clothes huh?” He asks and Daryl nods to him, letting Shane shut off the water before shaking himself like a dog. It’s not exactly ideal, Shane can’t help but take half a step back when he’s covered in the spray, but he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t even raise his voice at all, but he does share a look with Rick when his partner laughs. “Careful there bud, I already took a shower today, don’t need another one.”

Daryl looks a little worried, stooping his head low and tensing up, so Shane makes sure to continue smiling, holding out the towel to Daryl and he’s glad when he takes it. The tension leaves his shoulders when he wraps himself in the towel and Shane watches as he rubs the fabric over himself, seemingly very impressed with the texture of it. They’re not the softest things in the world, merely things grabbed on their journey through this world and it’s funny to see someone adore them so much.

When he’s dry enough Shane ushers him over to Rick, still keeping the movements smooth and safe. “Here you go, got you some nice clean scrubs to put on until we find more clothes for you.” Rick holds them out one item at a time for Daryl to wriggle into them, the man still looking impressed with the new clothing. He can’t seem to stop his hands from running over his sides, exploring the feel of clean clothes against clean skin and unable to stop himself from smiling. It’s great to see.

“You’ve done such a great job bud, look at you, already much better huh?” He asks and gets a nod in reply, Daryl fidgeting before them shyly again but already looking more approachable now he was clean. “Now you ready for the next part right? I’m gonna talk you through it like I did with the bandage alright?” Moving to sit besides Rick he carefully picks up the scissors, making sure to keep the blades covered with his fist so it couldn’t be dangerous.

Instantly he can see that Daryl is on edge, pacing a little, chewing on his thumb and wrapping his arms about himself. He can see the instant he reaches for where his knife would be and he worries that this might be one step too far. “Easy, easy it’s alright Daryl.” Rick’s got his hands out, watching Daryl carefully and Shane can see that he’s ready to tackle him if he needs to. Fortunately Daryl doesn’t look to be readying to attack, he just looks ready to cry. “Not going to hurt you remember?”

“We just want to cut your hair for you Daryl, it’s all long and gets in your eyes doesn’t it?” He asks, not moving the scissors from his lap, just staying still and safe for the other man. It’s clear Daryl was afraid but they weren’t going to get anywhere if they let him bolt every time he got frightened. Weapons were common place in their lives now, he had to trust them that was all. “I bet you’d like it more if it was shorter, like the same as mine or Rick’s right?” He nods to his partner, reaching out a spare hand to run his fingers through Rick’s hair to show him.

Daryl doesn’t exactly seem convinced, so he instead reaches up to his own head, grabbing a few strands and reaching up with the scissors held properly, ignoring the way Daryl flinches back and cutting off an inch of his own hair before holding it out on his palm to show him. Rick nods for Daryl to come and take a look but the man remains where he is, peering over with a small huff and a shrug. “It doesn’t hurt a bit Daryl, promise.” Rick soothes him and pats the floor in front of Shane. “Come sit here, we’ll do a little bit and if you don’t like it we can stop, how about that?”

It doesn’t ease Daryl’s nervous chewing on his thumb or the fidgeting with the hem of the scrubs shirt, but he does move to sit on the floor, his legs up and wrapping his arms around them. There’s a few inches of distance between Daryl’s back and the bench but Shane doesn’t make him move any closer if he doesn’t want to, he could reach just fine anyway. “Good job bud, you’re doing so good you know that?” He croons, reaching out to clip at a small clump of hair from Daryl’s head, moving quick before tossing it o Daryl’s side for him to see. “That didn’t hurt did it?”

There’s the soft click of Daryl’s teeth on the thumbnail, but he does shake his head and Shane takes that as a signal to continue. The entire time he keeps up a gentle rhythm of words, encouragement from both himself and Rick and giving Daryl time to gather himself when he flinches too badly at the sound of the scissors. The mass of snarled hair gets removed, a matted mess with god knows what it in. Shane decides to burn it with the clothing to remove any bugs living in it all. When he’s gotten the worst of it out Daryl’s hair is much shorter, enough left to run fingers through but not to get in his eyes at all.

“All done bud, good job staying still for me.” Shane watches as Daryl reaches up to his head, running his hands over the suddenly short hair with a slight huff. Again he explores the new feeling, rubbing over his scalp, twisting the short hair between his fingers before he seems satisfied. “Now last job, how about we trim your beard a bit? Won’t hurt.”

This time Rick moves to take up the trimmer, clipping on the safety guard and turning it on. Immediately Daryl startles before them, growling a little and turning on the spot, getting to his knees and glaring at the device. Rick smiles, holding it out to show him and running the cutting edge over his palm, the guard keeping it from cutting or hurting him at all. “See Daryl? Not going to hurt you at all. Just going to tidy up this a bit.” He gestures to his own scruff on his chin and Daryl reaches out to feel his own.

Shane watches as Daryl creeps forward inch by inch, kneeling before Rick and the trimmer with a look of trepidation on his face. Rick is gentle, he moves so slowly and easily that Daryl doesn’t flinch when he cups his face and Shane is pleased when Rick is able to move the trimmer over his chin without too much hassle. “Good job.” Rick hums, his thumb rubbing over Daryl’s cheek softly as he gets rid of the matted strands and leaves Daryl looking much tidier. The night has been a success in Shane’s eyes and Daryl is looking much better for it.

“All done bud. You did such a great job of trusting us and you look so much better for it.” He grins, genuinely pleased and proud of Daryl for all the progress he’s made tonight. On the floor before them Daryl blushes deeply, ducking his head and giving a feeble shrug as if it wasn’t a big deal, but Shane knows it is and the compliments are not for no reason. “Thank you for trusting us Daryl and for letting us trust you.”

Daryl squirms in front of them, seemingly unable to raise his eyes from the floor when he speaks in a quite but pleading voice. “’m good?”

It almost breaks Shane’s heart to hear that voice, especially for it to come from a full grown man begging them for reassurance that his action were correct. Rick leans forwards beside him, a hand held out open palmed to Daryl and Shane copies the motion, pleased when Daryl places a shaky palm tentatively on top of theirs as he replies. “Yeah bud, you’re real good.”

Chapter Text

They have a routine.

With the rest of the day to day work just keeping the prison running, Shane’s surprised that they’ve got the time to work another system into their lives, but the benefits make it worth it. There are plenty of others people around willing to patrol the fences and take out the walkers, plenty of people that Carol leads in checking their provisions, more than enough people with tools to build reinforcements to the fences, and Hershel manages to run people with a soft smile and kind heart. So Shane finds the time to do it all, and there is no problems caused because of his latest project.

Rick is still worried about it. Honestly, Shane can understand completely where Rick is coming from, and he’s spent practically every evening talking it through again and again and kissing Rick through the fear. The prison is stable. It’s safe. The Governor was long dead, their walls were strong, people were working together and life was becoming something they could slowly begin to enjoy again. There is always the worry that lingers when it comes to going on runs, bringing in newcomers is always a risk, but it’s working and it looks like it may keep working for years to come.

They have something here and he’s not going to put it at risk.

Their slow progress with Daryl is worth it, because the thing is even if they hadn’t meant to start it, they save people now. That’s what the prison has become, it’s what they have become and Shane will be damned if he lets one man slip through the net just because he’s a little different from the norm. Every time he looks around the prison he sees more an more evidence that this is the right thing to do. Tyreese and Karen kissing and sharing secret smiles. Sasha and Bob reminiscing over things before, but still enjoying what they had now. The Greene family are flourishing, Maggie is pregnant, Glenn is more than excited for it all and every time he sees Hershel smile to his eldest daughter he can see the glimmer of pride there. Families are flourishing here. From those they’d brought with them from Woodbury, some from the surrounding areas begging to be allowed to join them, right down to his own odd family of Rick, Carl and baby Judith. It was working here and he’s not going to give up on Daryl being able to join that family too.

It’s why he’s up every morning with everybody else, joining the line of people half asleep and queuing for breakfast, chatting with Rick as they eat and making plans for the day. Everybody else is aware of his little project, but they’re all more than trusting of his judgement, knowing that he doesn’t take risks anymore because they couldn’t afford to. They’d seen it before, when he and Rick had met two newcomers on their arrival and immediately been able to tell the kind of men they were. Maybe it’s pure animal instinct, maybe it was because they’d been cops, maybe they could just see the way the men’s eyes trailed over the women with something darker than just lust. The result had been the same, and the prison community as a whole had watched Shane and Rick saw the threat and eliminated it with precision.

No, nowadays they didn’t deal with potential risk.

It’s why they trust him now. It’s why Lizzie bounces to his side every morning and asks how her Shadow is doing and if Shane is still being nice to him. It’s why nobody else tries to get into the hospital block without his permission. They trust him, they trust the council’s judgement and they know if they’ve allowed Shane the time to try and get through to Daryl, then they had to believe he was capable of it.

Of course they’re curious, there have been questions and some people have wanted to know more about this mystery man they’re trying to tame, but until Shane feels comfortable with the situation, he’s not willing to give more than the basics. He may feel there is a success story at the end of this road, but he’s not going to jump the gun and get them hopeful when things were still just starting. He has his routine, he has his plan and slowly but surely he’s seeing progress.

So he grabs his usual backpack of tricks, gives Carl a tap to the back of his hat to make it cover his eyes and get the kid huffing, presses a kiss to Judith’s brow, runs a hand over the small of Rick’s back, and grabs a fresh bowl of oatmeal before heading to the hospital wing. They’ve secured the damned vent that Lizzie had been crawling through to get inside, and even if she still pouted about not getting to spend time with the Shadow on her own, Shane’s relieved that he can keep track of Daryl’s interactions better now. There was no worry for the young girl either, because as much as Shane is beginning to trust Daryl, he’s still a possible danger to them all.

Only he and Rick have the keys to the wing, and Shane always makes sure to lock the door behind himself when he enters, not only keeping Daryl in, but keeping everybody else out too. As much as he’s protecting his family, he has to keep Daryl safe too if he ever wants to earn the man’s complete trust. Flicking on the lights he finds it oddly comforting to have this routine nowadays, the safety of repetition reminding him of his life before everything had been turned on its head. The hall of the medical wing is the same as he left it last night, neater now that he’s been making more visits, with a clear central path down to Daryl’s cell. Heading down he can’t help but smile as he hears the familiar sounds of his charge getting up.

Daryl is already up, out of his nest of blankets on the floor, and pressed eagerly up against the bars of his cell. Shane can already see the good they’ve been doing, Daryl is clean, looking healthier, and even starting to put on some weight. He couldn’t be more proud, they’ve made great progress, and everyday Daryl seems to be getting better and better with him. He still doesn’t talk much, but Shane has a feeling that a lifetime of abuse and being punished for it means Daryl will never exactly be chatty, so he’s not too worried about that. Already he’s fishing out the cell key and opening it up, swinging the door open and leaving the choice up to Daryl.

It had taken time and patience, and there were some times that Daryl was far too skittish to leave the safety of his cell, but they have been making good progress and usually Daryl doesn’t mind coming into the hall with him. Today must be one of the better days because Daryl slips through the open doorway immediately, eagerly following Shane a few steps behind as he settles into his usual spot. He doesn’t have a chair anymore, instead Shane sits on the floor of the hall with his back propped against the wall, allowing Daryl to make himself comfortable wherever he feels like.

“Good morning Daryl.” Whenever he talks to the other man Shane always makes sure to keep his tone low and safe, the kind of easy level he’d talk to a frightened animal in. It works and even if he doesn’t usually get a verbal response, Daryl doesn’t flinch away from him every time he speaks either. “Thought we’d start today with some oatmeal.”

It’s not exactly a gourmet meal, but it’s breakfast and Shane knows from the smile on Daryl’s face that he’s just grateful to still be getting food. Setting down the bowl beside himself, Shane busies himself with getting Daryl’s file out from the backpack, giving the other man plenty of time to approach the bowl, take it and back away to a distance he felt more comfortable with. He would prefer if Daryl could stay beside him and feel comfortable enough to eat with him there, but he’s not going to spit on the progress they’ve already made. First few times Daryl hadn’t even wanted to leave the safety of his cell, and even tempting him with food hadn’t gotten him to leave it. Then they had progressed to Daryl leaving the cell to collect the food before retreating. So no, having Daryl outside of his cell and eating, means Shane knows they’re already making decent headway.

Daryl settles himself across from Shane, leaning against the bars of his cell, back covered so nobody could attack from behind, and eyes still always flicking from side to side to keep track of his surroundings. Honestly Shane can’t blame Daryl for being skittish, for always being ready for an attack. Between the people out there and the walkers, Shane’s surprised there aren’t more of them acting like Daryl. So he sits, he ignores Daryl until he’s comfortable, and it’s only once the other man is settled that he looks over him again.

Already there has been such a change in him. Where before Shane had barely been able to see anything human about him at all, now Daryl was slowly becoming more and more of the man he used to be. He’s cleaner, maybe Shane hadn’t been able to get him to shower every other day, but Daryl wasn’t covered in a thin layer of dirt that darkened his skin. His hair was short and away from his face, and the lack of matted facial hair left him able to truly see who Daryl was. He’s probably a few years younger than Shane, with eyes that were constantly on watch for danger, and a body gained through necessity rather than vanity. Daryl wasn’t exactly all muscle, but he had clearly built up enough strength to have muscle definition. Shane watches as the other man eats, and can’t help but smile at how already Daryl is looking better for his efforts.

“Hey bud, you enjoying that?” He asks, because even if he doesn’t get anything verbal, he likes getting the response of Daryl nodding his head in answer, it lets him know he’s not being ignored at least. Still they had way to go, and it’s made more than clear with Daryl’s habit of eating with his hands, scooping a mouthful of oatmeal up with his fingers and sucking them clean to eat. “Daryl, you remember how we talked about taking small steps?” He asks, and immediately he’s got Daryl’s attention.

At first when he’d been spending time with Daryl, he’d made the mistake of reprimanding him. Even as something as simple as saying ‘no’ when Daryl had been about to touch food that was too hot to be eaten had gotten a bad reaction. As soon as the word had fallen from his lips, his voice a little louder in worry and not his usual calm tone, Daryl had bolted into his cell. Shane had barely had time to react, and had been stuck frozen and unable to do anything other than watch as all his progress went out the window. Daryl had dived back into his cell, grabbing the door and swinging it shut even if it wouldn’t lock without Shane’s keys. He’d buried himself in his bundle of blankets and sheets, rammed himself into the corner of the cell with his back against the wall, and curled up so small Shane would have thought he was a child instead of a full grown man.

The worst part had been when he’d started crying.

The sound alone had broken Shane’s heart, but watching as Daryl had curled into himself, arms wrapped around his own head as he’d sobbed and whined to himself, it had damned near killed him. Of course he’d tried to apologise, moving quickly across the hall to the other man’s cell and forgetting himself in his haste. The suddenness of his movements had made it worse, Daryl’s sobs had gotten louder and Shane had seen just how hard the other man had flinched beneath the blankets. He’d tried to apologise, of course he had, but he’d been too loud, too desperate, tried to reach out and beg for forgiveness and made it all worse when Daryl had seen him. The other man had just looked so broken. Staring fearfully up at him with wide eyes full of tears, fingers clutching at his blankets and body pressing back against the bars as if trying to get further and further back and away from him.

As much as Shane may be scared of Daryl hurting his family, he’s equally as scared of them terrifying Daryl past the point of rehabilitation. He’d screwed up once, and it had taken the whole day to get back to the point he was at before. Daryl had refused food from him, water, apologies, and had been so scared of leaving his personal hideaway whilst Shane was there that in the end he’d had to give up and hope that the next day would bring hope.

Thankfully Daryl seemed to have forgiven him, and another few days of apologies, a soothing tone of voice, and a candy bar as a treat, had gotten him back into Daryl’s good graces. But Shane knows it’s wasn’t going to be an easy path to success, so he keeps trying everyday and right now Daryl is trying too.

“Small steps right bud?” Shane repeats, watching as Daryl sucks more of the oatmeal off his fingers, but is watching him curiously in return. It’s enough encouragement to get Shane to hold out a plastic spoon to Daryl, shaking it a little as he holds it to get the other man’s attention. “Here you go, let’s try eating with this instead of our fingers today.” There is a pause as Daryl watches him, looks at the spoon and watches him some more. The bowl of oatmeal is held protectively to his chest when he moves, slowly creeping closer inch by inch, reaching out a hand to brush his fingers over the offered spoon. Quick as a flash Daryl snatches it, scoots back to his original position and sets about shovelling the oatmeal into his mouth with the spoon. “Good job bud.” Shane croons and it still makes him smile at Daryl’s reaction.

The other man flushes, shoulders hunched, head bent and a blush of red over his cheeks. Daryl always gets flustered over compliments, squirming on the spot and seemingly unsure what to do with the praise. Almost as if he’s never had any through his life. It’s why Shane tries to give them to him, tries to encourage and coax Daryl into trusting him, into letting him in and getting him to see that all people weren’t so bad. It will take time, but he thinks it’s working.

It’s not long before the oatmeal is polished off, Daryl scraping the bowl completely clean and wolfing down whatever scraps he can get from it before leaving it on the floor with the spoon. Daryl pushes it closer to Shane, nudging it along the floor slowly with his foot until Shane can pick it up and put it in the bag to be returned to the kitchen later. “Thank you.” He always makes sure to say, and he’s not sure if it’s because he likes talking to Daryl, or if old habits really did die hard.

He lets Daryl’s file sit over his knees as he begins flicking through it, idly humming to himself as he goes over the paperwork. It’s not an uncomfortable silence between them, Shane just knows that Daryl feels more comfortable and more likely to relax if he’s not being watched all the time. Some of the paperwork is just legal bullshit, some pertaining to Daryl’s arrest and subsequent diagnosis of needing to be penned in the medical wing. However, the things Shane is interested in are the personal reports, and today he intends to try and get Daryl to open up a bit more to him.

“You’re doing a real good job, you know that Daryl?” He asks idly, not expecting a reply, but enjoying the small huff of response he gets instead. Glancing up a little he can see Daryl looking overwhelmed by the praise again, it makes him smile as he continues. “I’m really proud of you man, it won’t be long before you can come and join us in the main cell block and really become a part of the family.” It’s a little mismatched and a lot bigger than it started, but he knows that’s what they are now.

Already Daryl is looking to him with a creased brow, head cocked a little to the side and Shane can only smile as he explains. “Yeah it’s strange I know, and maybe we ain’t all related, but we’re definitely a family now. Before all this I only had my parents, didn’t have any siblings, maybe that’s why me and Rick have always been so close. The pair of us finding brothers in each other that we needed.” Brothers to begin with, but it had become so much more now. Rick was his soul mate through and through, and maybe it had taken them a while to realise that, but they had the time now to enjoy it. The thought of his partner is enough to get him distracted, so before he can go off course he’s looking back over to Daryl. “What about you Daryl? Have anyone before all this?” He asks, and pauses for a reaction.

Daryl is watching him, arms wrapped around his knees as he sits and chews on his bottom lip. He’s listening, a clear part of this conversation, and there is the tiniest hint of a nod in answer.

“Yeah?” He’s read the reports, he knows about the abuse Daryl suffered at the hands of his father, and the neglect from his mother, so Shane tactfully doesn’t mention them as he encourages Daryl a bit more. “Who did you have bud? Family? Friends?” Shane is eager for an answer, if only because he wants Daryl to get used to talking again, he wants to encourage him to speak, to give his opinion and be heard now.

He pauses, waits, watches Daryl quietly and doesn’t take offence when the other man can’t meet his eyes. Daryl fidgets, raising his thumb to his mouth to chew on the nail, squirms in place and his eyes dart between Shane and the cell for a moment as if he’s preparing to bolt again. But then he swallows, and Shane can see the second Daryl gets the nerve to respond. “H-had…” It’s quiet, barely more than a whisper, but it still makes Shane proud. “Had a brother.”

The statement may be barely anything, it might not mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it means everything to Shane at the same time. He knows he’s grinning as he leans forward, careful not to make Daryl wary of his eagerness, but wanting to show his interest. “Yeah? Tell me about him bud.” He coaxes, watching Daryl’s ever wary gaze and making sure he’s not pressing too hard.

Again the other man chews on his thumb, body still hunched, still not entirely relaxed with him, but if Daryl didn’t want this to continue he could easily stop it. But he’s not, he’s watching Shane, taking in another breath and trying so hard to keep up a normal conversation that would be so easy for anybody else. “M-Merle.” Daryl whispers, voice so fragile Shane is afraid it could break at any moment. “Had a big brother, c-called Merle.”

Shane knows he’s grinning like an idiot right now, but he’s just gotten two big things from Daryl right now and he’s so damned proud of him. A full sentence and personal information. It was a huge step, even if it might not seem like it to anybody else. “You’re lucky to have had a brother Daryl, thank you for sharing with me.” He tells him, enjoying the way Daryl ducks his head with a smile.

The files may think they have everything about Daryl in them, but sometimes Shane found himself learning a lot more about the other man just by spending time with him. Daryl was shy sure, but there are things you can learn about someone else without needing the exchange of conversation. Shane had learned that Daryl is almost always fidgeting with something, he knows he likes being read to, and that he prefers the blue scrubs they found him over the green ones. It’s small things, but it’s things that Shane feels privileged to know.

Closing the file for a moment, he instead picks up one of the books he’s brought along, running his fingers over the front of it before showing it to Daryl. “Thought we could read this one today bud. It’s not much but it’s not like we’ve got tv anymore right?” He finds it helps if he’s distracted with something, if he’s not paying all his attention to Daryl the other man is more likely to relax. They’ve already made enough progress today for Shane to not want to push it, so he’s happy if they just sit for a few minutes and waste the day away.

He’s not even finished the first page when he knows it’s already working. Each day that passed Daryl seemed to become braver and braver, more comfortable with him being around and more willing to relax. It’s not about getting Daryl to do exactly what Shane wants, he doesn’t want a slave or a servant, it’s about getting Daryl comfortable enough to feel he can do what he wants himself. Shane tries not to reprimand Daryl as much as possible, he tries to allow him the freedom to do as he wishes, if only Daryl would be brave enough to take it. So he sits, he reads and he tries not to seem too interested in what Daryl is doing.

At first there is no real change. He reads, Daryl remains in his spot across from him and just listens quietly for a while, Shane can still hear the soft click of his teeth catching on his thumbnail every so often. It’s not until he’s midway through the first page that Daryl shifts, not standing, but instead shuffling a little over to him. Shane knows better than to watch him, sometimes he’d startled Daryl out of doing what he wanted because he’d had an audience, and he hadn’t been able to coax him to continue. So he focuses on reading, letting his voice fill the space between them and giving Daryl the safety to carry on moving if he wants to.

He picks up on the small sounds of Daryl moving, the shuffle of his knees across the floor, the light pat of his hands hitting the tiles so he can crawl over. Daryl seems to prefer keeping low, moving close to the ground instead of standing upright, and Shane’s doesn’t have a problem with the other man making himself feel safer. Sure it’s not conventional, but what was these days? Shane simply carries on reading, letting Daryl get used to his voice, letting the other man make himself comfortable.

It’s small. Just the tiniest of touches. Daryl sits beside him, not pressed against the wall, not so close that he can’t bolt back to his cell if he wants to, but he’s close enough that as he sits cross legged, his bare foot is touching Shane’s calf. It’s progress and Shane pauses at the end of the page to just glance up and see Daryl properly. He’s still tense, and as soon as he notices Shane watching him, he’s visibly unsure and anxious, so Shane makes sure to try and soothe his worries.

“Hey bud.” His voice is just above a whisper, calm and gentle, and he can see when Daryl relaxes at his tone. It’s helping, and Shane moves slowly as he reaches out a hand, palm up, non-threatening, just waiting for Daryl to listen. “Can I check on your arm today? Got to nearly completely healed now, probably doesn’t even need bandages anymore right?” He points out, and even if he never expects a verbal response, he’s always been a talker.

Daryl is watching him, eyes always trained on him, watching his every move, always aware of where he is in relation to his weapons. He doesn’t mind, not when the other does respond to him, slowly placing his wrist in Shane’s grip to be held. Of course Daryl is tense, other hand against the floor, ready to brace himself if he wanted to get up and away as quickly as possible, but Shane can understand. Instead of worrying about it he instead hushes Daryl, keeps the soothing noises coming as he move slowly, picking at the bandage over Daryl’s forearm to peek at the bullet wound that he’d patched up over a week ago.

“Looking good.” He comments, fingers untangling the fabric until he’s left with Daryl’s pale skin before him, the redness of the wound stark in contrast, but fully closed, clean and healing. Shane lets his fingers smooth over it, barely even touching as he strokes the skin, feeling for any problems and watching Daryl’s reaction. The other man squirms in place, his gaze falling to the floor as a blush scatters over his cheeks. It’s sweet to see how easily Daryl gets flustered, seemingly genuinely overwhelmed by any sort of kind touch Shane gives him. “Think that’s all better now, we’ll keep an eye on it, but no need to keep it wrapped up.” He points out, releasing Daryl’s arm from his grip and tucking the used bandages into his backpack so they can be washed and reused.

He’s not expecting a response, honestly getting the few words from Daryl before had been enough for Shane for the day, so he’s surprised when Daryl makes a small noise in the back of his throat. It’s not a whine, not a whimper, more just a noise to catch his attention, and he finds himself watching as a still blushing Daryl inches closer to him. He tries not to seem to surprised, and he watches as Daryl scoots nearer, close enough that soon Daryl is pressed fully against his leg, body warmth being shared with Shane’s in the cool hallway. He’d not been expecting it at all, but it doesn’t mean he’s not proud of the other man.

“Good job bud, you’re doing so good today.” He coos, flexing his leg a little, just to be able to feel where Daryl’s leg and rear are pressed up against him, actually touching him willingly. “I’m proud of you for trusting me, for letting me sit with you like this. It means a lot, and I know that it won’t be long until you’re ready to come and meet everybody else out there.” He nods to the doorway that leads out into the rest of the prison, and smiles when Daryl follows suit.

The other man is still blushing, seemingly overwhelmed by the praise, fidgeting a little with the hem of his scrubs shirt, tangling his fingers in the fabric with his head tilted down enough that Shane can see the tinge of red over his ears. Shane watches as Daryl chews on his lip, making a quiet hum of agreement and nodding to Shane’s plan. It seems to take some courage, but Shane nods and coaxes Daryl to continue when he sees the other man run his tongue over his lips, mouth opening a little as if he wants to speak but is still unsure of himself. So he waits, smiles and is patient. “W-want that.” Daryl whispers, immediately ducking his head as if afraid he’s going to be reprimanded for being so daring.

“Yeah?” Shane is eager to keep this going, to encourage Daryl to talk when he wants to, to share his wants with him. “You want to meet everybody else? That’s good bud, I know they want to meet you too. Everybody wants you to stay with us, to join our family properly.” He explains, and even if Daryl has showed an interest in staying in the prison before, this is the first time he’s ever shown a want to meet more people.

Daryl fidgets, he seems unable to meets Shane’s eyes as he speaks, voice still small and barely above a whisper. “I can st-stay with you?” He asks, fingers tangled in the fabric of his scrubs shirt still. “You an-and Rick?”

Shane has to grin at that, and of course he’s nodding immediately, wanting Daryl to know that he’s not alone in this. “Yeah man. You can stay with me and Rick. Can come join us in our cell block and stay with us.” He explains, and Shane doesn’t make a big deal when Daryl leans closer to him, one hand detaching from his clothing to instead grab at Shane’s pant leg. It’s such a small movement, but it’s the first time Daryl has initiated any real contact with him.

Again the other man chews on his lip, he’s still quiet when he speaks, but there is an edge of hopefulness in his voice. “For how long?” Daryl asks, fingers curled into the fabric of Shane’s pants and clinging on as if he’s afraid he’s going to lose grip and be cast aside any second.

Taking the chance, Shane leans forwards, keeping things slow, predictable as he reaches his hand out to gently cover Daryl’s. It’s nothing really, barely anything, just him placing his hand on top of Daryl’s as he replies. “For however long you want bud.”

Daryl makes a tiny noise in the back of his throat, maybe one of excitement, maybe it’s surprise, but it’s paired with the tiniest quirk of a smile at the corner of his mouth. The hand beneath Shane’s quivers a little, tensing as if being prepared to be dragged back and away, but it’s still there when Daryl asks. “Is…is forever okay?”

It’s such an innocent question, so honest and full of hope that Shane doesn’t have the heart to do anything more than smile, shifting to make sure he’s caught Daryl’s eye and is understood when he speaks. “Forever sounds great Daryl.” He tells the other man, gently giving a squeeze to the hand he’s covering, rubbing his thumb over the back of it and trying to make sure Daryl knows he’s being honest. “Forever sounds perfect.”

There is the tiniest of smiles on Daryl’s lips, his cheeks are flushed pink and the other man ducks his head a little as he makes a small shy noise of being overwhelmed. But the hand beneath Shane’s own turns in his grip, moves to twine their fingers together, and squeeze gently in promise.