“Daryl, you really should sit down, you’ve been working all day,” Hershel said, concern clear in his voice. The redneck had spent most of the morning outside the prison, setting snares and traps and catching the stray squirrels to cross his path. It was barely past noon now and he was already soaked in sweat and covered in a fine film of filth from head to toe.
The only thing stopping him from working more was the nagging pain in his back, this sharp pain he felt whenever he straightened up after leaning or whenever he turned, causing his back to twist and twinge in sudden pain.
“Got work to do, can’t be takin’ no breaks. Ya’ll want to eat, right?”
Hershel gave him a no-nonsense look. “Back injuries are not something to take lightly. If you aggravate your back any more it could lead to permanent damage. There’s bulged disks, hernias, misaligned spinal—”
“Save it, I’ve dealt with pain all my life, I think I can handle being a little sore.” With that he stood from the bunk bed and strolled out the cell, absent-mindedly moving his hand to rest on his back and stretch a tiny bit until it led to another twinge of pain.
The only reason he even went to see Hershel was because Rick had seen him cringing when he hopped off his bike upon returning from the hunting and trapping expedition. Daryl agreed to see the old vet, but he never agreed to actually do anything about it. Why the hell should he do anything anyway? It was just a pulled muscle at most, nothing to cry about. His back had seen much worse damage than this when he was a fraction of his current age. He’d be fine, he always was.
Rick caught sight of him as he returned to the prison yard. In the distance he could see Axel helping Carol and T-Dog killing Walkers through the fences while Lori and Beth stood by with water and chatted them up. It was a pretty decent day, with less Walkers than usual to bother them. Rick waved Daryl over and jogged a bit to meet him in the middle.
“How’s your back?”
“S’fine. Nothing to get your panties in a twist about.”
Rick narrowed his eyes at Daryl suspiciously. “Did you see Hershel like I asked you to?”
“Yep, old man said I’m fine.” He took a few steps away and looked toward the fences. “They need help over there?”
“They’re fine. You sure you’re okay, Daryl? It’s okay if you want to take a break, it’s a nice day and there’s hardly been any Walkers around. Carol said she was amazed how safe it would be to just walk out there and not see any.”
“I’m fine, Rick,” Daryl snapped. “You’d fuckin’ know it if I wasn’t, alright?”
Rick was ready to retort when he saw the features of Daryl’s face twist into personified misery. His already-narrow eyes were squeezed so tightly shut it looked like they’d never open again. His lips curled into a pained grimace and he gasped shakily, as if trying to keep from making noise, but it was obvious he was hurting. Bad.
“Daryl?” Rick reached a hand out and grabbed his shoulders, afraid he’d fall without him. “Daryl, what’s wrong? God damn it, I knew you should have taken a break after your back—”
Another pained gasp escaped the hunter’s lips and he interrupted Rick’s tirade. “It’s…” Gasp. “Not my…” Gasp. “Back.” His mouth opened, panting in his misery, eventually leading to a low whine. He couldn’t stand anymore and doubled over, clutching his lower stomach, forcing the other man to back away (else be head-butted in the stomach). Rick wasn’t sure if the new groan of pain was because of his back from bending over, or from his evidently-pained stomach.
Rick backed away to give Daryl room to breathe, calling out to anyone in the yard, “Help! Daryl’s hurt!” Glenn and Maggie sprinted from the top of the guard tower and the survivors at the fence all turned to look at the commotion. T-Dog killed the last Walker and the five of them jogged over as well, with Lori and Beth trailing behind; pregnant running wasn’t the fastest.
Then Rick regretted calling everyone over. Namely, the ladies, since he realized Daryl wasn’t clutching his stomach. His hands were lower, gripping his thighs and his… his crotch.
“WAIT!” The leader yelled out. Everyone stopped their pace, still half-way across the yard from the two men. “LORI, BETH, CAROL, MAGGIE, GO AWAY.” The girls all looked confused and a little angry. Daryl’s gasps got louder and he was on his knees by this point, knuckles whitening under his pained hold of his pants.
Rick cleared his throat awkwardly. “It’s just his back,” he called out. “Just need some men to help carry him back.” His excuse was hardly believed but the women knew he had a good reason if he was lying, so they all walked back, meeting Maggie at the guard tower since there were no more Walkers at the gates to kill.
T-Dog, Axel, and Glenn finally reached the Sheriff and injured man, concern growing.
T-Dog spoke up first. “Rick, man, what’s wrong?”
“We need to get him inside to Hershel, NOW,” Rick growled. They noticed Daryl’s form on the ground and realized that this was serious—Daryl showing pain was never good.
They sent Axel ahead in the prison to find Hershel while the rest helped Daryl up and walk to the cell block. Daryl’s pride made him grit his teeth and try to not show signs of weakness, but he lost out to that when a new surge of pain made him whine again, causing his cheeks to redden at the admission.
Hershel limped out of his cell, demanding, “What’s wrong with him now?” The four men stopped and looked sheepish. “Just get him in here and on the bed.”
Daryl groaned when his ass met the mattress, but he had to admit it was a lot better than being on his knees in the prison yard while their group watched from afar.
The position he sat in told Hershel all he needed to know; hunched over, ignoring his previously-stated back pain at slouching, shoulders tense and knees tight together with his hands gripping around the crotch of his pants.
“Daryl…” Hershel asked, in a hushed and suddenly pitying tone. “What’s wrong, son?”
All the men’s faces went white when Daryl muttered, “My junk.”
“Your what?” Glenn squeaked out, nervously wringing his cap in his hands.
Hershel turned around, crutches clacking, eyes meeting the group. “I think it’s best if we have some privacy.” The three men walked away with anxious glances back to the cell. They only walked out to the cafeteria area, not wanting to leave Daryl too far behind and also not wanting to face the women and their questions just yet.
Carl bounced up to the group of gossiping women, suddenly stopping when they grew quiet. “What’s going on? I just saw Axel hurling in the bathrooms.”
Axel always did have a weak stomach when it came to problems. Man problems. Physical man problems. He didn’t do very well in jail when he had to shower with other men, let alone whenever they’d junk-punch each other.
Lori placed a hand on her pregnant stomach. “We don’t know. Daryl’s hurt but the men seem to be…”
“Acting sketchy,” Maggie finished.
“It must be bad if Daryl’s showing signs of pain,” Carol spoke up. “His back must really be getting to him, I heard Rick earlier telling him to see Hershel for it.”
The women continued their guesses and speculations and Carl soon grew bored, venturing back into the prison.
Daryl was tenser than he’d ever been before, gasping in his breaths and trying to alleviate this pain in his special place.
“Daryl, son, I need you to tell me what’s wrong.”
“Already… told you…”
“Yes, but I need you to be as specific as you can.”
The older man leaned his crutches against the wall and took a seat on a folding chair across from Daryl, observing his movements and breathing.
“I’ll ask and you answer then.” Daryl have a short nod. “Did you lift anything heavy?”
“Jus’… some squirrels… ain’t heavy… I told you… it’s not a hernia…” He gasped between words, feeling like he could get sick with this nagging aching pain.
“Were you rough-housing with Rick?”
Daryl’s eyes met Hershel’s with an incredulous look. “No.”
The old man took in a deep breath, considering what could have hurt Daryl when he realized just how much time they had been spending together, allegedly hunting and finding supplies. “Oh dear God. You two haven’t been experimenting with inappropriate touching, have you?”
“No, gross!” The redneck spat.
“I know you’ve been seeing a lot of Carol lately, lord knows what that ex of hers must have given her.”
Daryl groaned. “It’s getting worse!” His eyes shut tighter and his breathing hitched.
“Daryl, I don’t want you getting physical with Carol anymore. And keep clear of Axel. Men like that are usually on the dope.” Then Hershel remembered—when he met the younger Dixon he had a bag full of random legal and illegal drugs leftover from Merle. “Daryl, have you been shooting dope into your scrotum? You can tell me, I’m hip!”
A sob escaped the younger man, more from embarrassment than from pain. “Why are you doing this? I don’t know what I did! Suddenly it just felt like someone kicked me in the rocks and never took their fuckin’ foot away!”
“Alright, Daryl, you’re gonna have to pull down your pants. I have to palpate the region.” He began rubbing his hands together to heat them.
“Please, Hershel. Please, please, please don’t feel me up.”
“I’m going to palpate, Daryl. This isn’t fun for me, either. Do you want me to get Rick to do it, is that any better for you? A man with big, calloused hands and untrimmed nails—”
He cried in pain again. “Ah! I want a doctor!”
Rick was a little less than happy to see Carl bounding into the cafeteria. He wasn’t exactly thrilled when his son’s first question was, “What’s wrong with Daryl? Carol said he hurt his back.”
“Carl, come here. We need to have a little chat on privacy and not invading people’s personal space.” But then Hershel joined them in the room, no doubt undoing what Rick was going to tell Carl about minding his own damn business.
The old man limped in, a mournful expression behind his beard. “I gave him some Tylenol for the pain but I’m afraid it’ll only take the edge off until I can perform the necessary operation.”
Glenn looked ready to puke, T-Dog looked like he’d seen a ghost, and Carl was just as confused as before.
“For his back?” He asked.
“For his genitals,” Hershel somberly replied.
Rick stood from his seat so quickly he had a mild head rush. “Say again?”
“I did my best to examine him, had I still had my other leg it’d be bruised from him struggling. Daryl has all the symptoms of a rare, but not uncommon, disorder called Testicular Torsion.”
Every man in the prison felt a huge amount of pity for Daryl, hands absently hovering over their own precious parts.
T-Dog took a deep breath and asked, “So, uh, what exactly… causes it?”
“It’s pure genetics, unless you’re stupid enough to twist your testicles around to cut off—” The sound of Glenn dry-heaving stopped him. “Its genetics, plain and simple.”
Glenn sighed in relief.
“Though it occurs mostly in men ages twelve to twenty-five.”
Carl and Glenn’s eyes widened.
“But it can be fixed.”
They shared a sigh of relief.
“With a surgery that opens up the skin and re-twists the testes to the correct position.”
Carl groaned and put his head on the cafeteria table. This only got worse and worse. Rick cleared his throat for the thousandth time that day and approached Hershel. “Daryl’s gonna need surgery then? Do we have supplies?”
“We have sedatives and some antibiotics left. Rick, I’ll be honest, I’ve never had to do this kind of operation before and that man in there only has about five more hours until his condition requires an amputation rather than correction.”
He was followed by a loud groan from the direction of the cell block. “I CAN HEAR YOU, OLD MAN,” was Daryl’s pained yell.
Rick and Hershel stepped aside, discussing what needed to be done. “Theodore,” Hershel called out. “Please check on Axel. Glenn, I need you to help gather supplies.”
“Carl, come with me. We’re going to stall the women. The last thing Daryl needs right now is more people knowing.” Carl followed his father obediently. All of the men were very quiet, haunted by the testicular torsion update.
“Rick, what on earth is going on? Is Daryl okay?”
The barrage of women ambushed the Grimes men in seconds when they joined them in the field. “Daryl’s going to be fine. Hershel has to operate on him and he needs to keep the prison vacant.”
Placing her hands on her hips, Maggie squared in on Rick. “Why? Why can’t we be inside? Daddy might need me or Beth or Carol! And it’s hotter than hell out here.”
“Because he doesn’t want you to see Daryl’s nuts,” Carl mindlessly replied, eyes blank and clearly still shaken up by the news that no man was safe.
Lori choked on her spit. “What was that, young man?”
Rick lightly knocked Carl upside the head. “Carl, go to the tower.”
Carl grumbled about how unfair Rick was as he slammed the tower door shut and stomped his feet up the metal stairs.
The woman circled Rick and began demanding answers once more. “Well, Rick?” Carol began. “What the hell is wrong with Daryl?”
Inhaling a sharp breath and hoping Daryl wouldn’t stop his ass into the ground, Rick began his short explanation. “Daryl has Testicular Torsion. Hershel has to untwist his… or he’ll lose his… yeah…” He couldn’t look them in the eyes but felt their gazes burn his skin. “We thought Daryl would rather the women didn’t know and weren’t present for the… procedure.”
A loud yell from the prison doors had Rick bounding back to the facility. “RICK,” cried Glenn. “HURRY UP, HE’S TURNING BLUE.” Rick cringed and ran to the Asian while the women all shared hushed comments, glad for once that they were girls.
“Do you gotta?”
“Yes, son, it makes the procedure a lot easier for me if it’s shaved.”
Daryl leaned his head against his pillow and covered his eyes with his arm. “Alright. Just get it over with…”
Glenn stood idly by, clutching the shaving cream and ladies’ razor he found in the showers. Rick was embarrassed to be a part of this but knew it was all necessary.
So Hershel went on with shaving the poor Dixon, earning a few swears and a “watch it old man, I need those later!” All the while Glenn and Rick stood outside the cell giving them some privacy.
The old man limped out of the cell. “Here’s the plan. I’m going to try to re-twist it to normal without cutting him open,” a whispered thank God was barely audible in the cell. “But I need you two to stand by out here in case I need any help with the process, like restraining him if it gets to be too much.”
“God damn it.”
Rick nodded and the vet went back in to start his work.
Hershel returned to Daryl’s side and sat down in his folding chair while Daryl continued taking in deep yet shallow breaths. The sound of Hershel rubbing his hands together for the second time that day caught Daryl’s attention and he cracked his eyes open to see the old man preparing.
“You ready, son?” He gulped and gave a short nod. Hershel reached out a cloth, simply saying, “You might want to bite on something.”
He placed the cloth between his teeth and felt his anxiety go up, though he would never show it. Hershel placed on hand on Daryl’s hip and pulled back the sheet that covered the Dixon. He gasped into the cloth when he felt himself being grabbed and given even more pain as he was being corrected. It felt like his sensitive, sore parts were being violently pulled when really Hershel was feeling and gently moving his fingers to realign the twisted parts.
The pain was like being kicked by a steel-toed boot and he felt tears welling up in his eyes while he tried to choke back sobs and vomit. Hershel stopped and removed Daryl’s cloth, quickly placing more pills in his mouth with a short command, “Swallow.”
He gave Daryl a few minutes to recollect himself before giving the cloth back and going back to work finishing up the twisting and pulling.
“GOD FUCKING DAMN IT,” rang out across the prison, catching the attention of a few stray Walkers. The women cringed and genuinely felt bad for the poor screaming man.
They exchanged worried looks before all came running back to the prison, despite being banished for the time being, leaving Carl to deal with the Walkers himself.
Maggie reached cafeteria first, met with the worried faces of T-Dog and Axel. Axel, unlike T-Dog, was hurling into a trash can.
They all rushed into the cell block and saw Glenn and Rick, running hands through hair nervously and periodically looking back into the cell Daryl and Hershel were in.
“How is he?” Carol managed to ask despite her tightening throat and growing worry.
Hershel hobbled out of the cell and his small smile calmed everyone to a degree. “He’s fine. We didn’t have to operate.” The men sighed in relief. “That’s not to say that we wouldn’t have to next time this occurs to one of you.” Glenn whimpered.
The bed was a lot comfier now that he didn’t have an old man looming over it and molesting him for an hour or so. Yes, Daryl’s day was looking up already. His crotch was sore and he was lying in bed with a thin sheet acting as the only thing covering his lower half and a damp cloth on his junk to help the swelling, which was uncomfortable (but goddamn relieving considering the past few hours).
Silver hair caught his eye and he was met with Carol. “Hey, heard you weren’t feeling well.”
His cheeks burned and he sputtered.
“Your back, right?”
Waves of relief hit him. “Y-yeah, my back. Hurts like a sumbitch, my back.”
Carol smiled and turned away to leave. “It’s a shame; your back, I mean. Let me know if I can do anything to make it feel better. Maybe a massage will fix it.” And she was gone before Daryl could register the flirt.
The pain killers he was given began to make him sleepy, and now that he wasn’t writhing he could finally give in and rest.
“GOD DAMN IT!”
Merle dropped to his knees as the Governor hurried to his post at the fence. “Merle, what’s wrong? You ain’t bit, did you catch some friendly fire?”
Merle groaned. “Ah, fuck, no, this hurts…”
He turned to vomit all over the Governor’s shoes and gasped out, “My junk.”