DON'T OWN TWD

A/N: So sorry its taking me a million years to update! I've been super swamped but I finally wanted to update this fic. A new chapter of Look Alive, Sunshine is coming soon as well. Enjoy!

.

TWENTY-TWO

Neighbors

.

Summer was coming to a close. The days seemed cooler and the nights felt longer. The trees slowly began to change, accommodating the coming season; their leaves transformed into a variety of colors. Slowly but surely autumn was arriving with a vibrant entrance. And even though Daryl Dixon seemed to have lost track of time, he knew that the changing season marked one year since the little bundle of trouble had come into their lives.

On that day, heavy raindrops fell upon the apartment building and crashed against the glass windows that were left open to let the gray light of the afternoon in. The day itself wasn't cold but it was cool enough to lounge around in comfort. There was no reason to leave the loft that day, especially not in the rain.

Daryl found himself sitting against the wall, watching the baby girl a couple of feet away from him. She was just days from turning a year old and she was already pulling herself onto furniture and babbling words that almost sounded like English. When Charlie pulled herself up against the sofa, she patted the cushions with her dimpled hands, pleased with herself. No matter what she seemed to do, she was always far too pleased with herself.

Charlie hadn't taken her first steps but Daryl anticipated them. A heavy feeling fell to the pit of his stomach when he realized Beth would be missing that milestone in their child's life. In the days that grew closer to autumn, Daryl thought a lot about Beth. He still hoped that she was alive somewhere but so far he had remained hunkered down, feeding that hope like a dying fire. It was hard to travel with Charlotte. She was loud and hot tempered, a real walker magnet. He would just be putting her in danger.

Charlie turned her head to look at her father and flashed him a four-toothed grin. Those four little teeth had caused both parties a great headache.

"Careful." Daryl warned her when she attempted to pull herself up on the sofa. "Yer gonna fall and crack yer head."

The girl paid no mind to her father and tried to climb on the sofa anyway. Daryl could already tell she was going to be a stubborn one. He could almost hear Beth say it herself.

"Ay, what I say?" He called out to her again but made no effort to go pluck her from the sofa that was like a mountain to her. Charlie giggled but ignored Daryl, continuing on her own adventure.

Daryl scoffed, "Fine, crack yer skull wide open then. See how ya like that…"

Charlie lost her balance and toppled backwards onto her bottom. "Oh!" She gave a little gasp but laughed and pulled herself back up with much determination. Daryl continued to watch her with much curiosity. Nothing seemed to scare the girl; she was fearless. He wondered if that would ever change.

Charlie pointed a little finger at Daryl, "Bah!" She called to him. "Bah!"

"What?"

"Bah-bah!" She repeated with gusto. If that was a word then she had spoken her first one.

Daryl snorted, "Ain't got no clue what yer sayin', girl."

Charlie trotted along the sofa, eager to let it go and take those first steps to her father. She hesitated before she took the plunge but fell forward, little hands hitting the floor. A tiny, impatient growl escaped her and she crawled towards Daryl as fast as she could.

"Buh-bah." She used his shoulder as leverage to pull herself up.

The corner of Daryl's lip twitched into a half smile, "Hi, Sweetheart."

Charlie searched his face and gave him another toothy grin. There was a knock on the door and Daryl jumped up to his feet with the girl under one arm. He cautiously approached the door and looked through the peephole.

He exhaled in an annoyed manner, "Took ya long enough."

Daryl opened the door and there she stood: their friendly neighbor.

"I came to borrow some sugar." She joked. Her name was Marion. She was young, probably no older than thirty. Swift and quite agile, she had been the one to give Daryl the rash ointment for Charlie. Since then, the two had kept an eye out for one another.

Now Daryl wasn't so thrilled to have another person around him or his girl but Marion mostly kept to herself. She could handle herself and besides, it didn't hurt to have someone keep watch while he rested with Charlie during the night. It had been their agreement. She'd watch nights and he days.

Daryl stepped aside to let her in and closed the door behind her.

"Thought them walkers had ya." He mumbled, walking over to his and Charlie's bedding where he sat her down upon the blankets and handed her a teething toy.

Marion made her way to the tiny kitchen and placed her backpack upon the table. "Guess you don't know me that well yet." She reached in and pulled out two cans of beans, one of Chili, a packet of oatmeal and a four jars of baby food.

"Boom." She presented her catch of the day.

Daryl went over to the table and picked up a jar of baby food. "Where'd ya find this?"

"A few miles down south. There's a small neighborhood. Found them at the very top of the pantry."

"Find anythin' else?"

Marion glanced over at Charlie, "For her?" She met Daryl's gaze, "Nothing edible."

"Hmm. Would'a thought they'd be swiped clean…"

Marion bit her bottom lip for a moment. "Let's just say the homeowners didn't make it far."

Daryl knew what she meant right away and wondered exactly where she had found the family's remains. He looked over his shoulder at Charlie who was chewing on the toy. It be better not to ask.

"Alright, that should suffice for those squirrels you got me the other day. Tit for tat."

Daryl nodded in agreement.

Marion collected her backpack and put it on. She went over to Charlie and knelt down next to her to caress her cheek. "How's the tush doin'?"

Charlie just babbled. Marion chuckled and stood to her feet, "Alright, see ya when I see ya." And out the door she went as easily as she arrived, leaving Daryl alone with the little thing that didn't speak proper English.

It was during the night that Daryl thought of Beth the most. She came to him in dreams in his sleep and in his thoughts when he was wide awake. In those moments where he drifted in between sleep and consciousness, he swore he could hear her voice talking to him. With a heavy voice he would answer her and when she didn't reply, Daryl would fully wake to find that she wasn't there.

Daryl hated those moment of realization. Beth's voice had sounded so real to him.

He had dreamt of her again that night. Her voice had been like sweet honey, calling out his name in the teasing tone she often did. She called him by his full name. Daryl Dixon. He liked that. In his dreams she sang like she had done that night in the funeral home. It was one of his favorite memories if he had to admit to himself. It was such a calm night, one of few.

He opened his eyes, angry at the fact that it had been another dream and stared at the ceiling. The only candle that he had lit that night had died out leaving them in darkness.

Daryl sat up as soon as he heard the rumble on the bottom floor of the building. It sounded like someone or something had broken through the back door. Daryl fumbled to find the flashlight and turned it on, finding Charlie still fast asleep. He pointed the flashlight to the door. Could it have been Marion?

He made his way to the door and slowly opened it, flashing the light out into the hall. Nothing. He whistled a specific tune that Marion knew. There was no response. He glanced back to the apartment where Charlie remained asleep. He thought it a miracle that she hadn't been awoken by the sound. He hated leaving her but it had to be done.

Daryl grabbed his crossbow before he exited the apartment and closed the door behind him.

The entire building was dark, too dark. There was usually a candle around lighting the way. Marion was up, keeping an eye out but there was no sign of her. Daryl came upon the apartment she had chosen as her own and quietly knocked on the door. The door pushed open as if it had already been ajar and he peered inside, shining the light in.

"Ey!" He called out in a loud whisper. No response.

He heard the sound down below again. Someone was fumbling around in the dark. Marion was quieter than a mouse. It couldn't have been her. He left her apartment and kept heading down the stairs, listening intently and keeping an eye out for every single corner. His weapon remained aimed.

He made it down to the lobby, the light illuminated every inch of darkness. The sound came again from the back. Daryl followed it down the hall that lead to the back door and the janitorial closet. His heart stopped when he found the back door wide open.

SLAP!

The mop against the wall in the corner slammed to the floor when a large rat sprang out of a dark corner and ran out the back door.

"Fuck!" Daryl jumped, taken back by surprise. "Fuckin' critter…" He muttered to himself and turned around to be face to face with the rotten mouth of a walker. It grabbed him by the shoulders and snapped its teeth right in Daryl's face.

"Shit!" Daryl spat, falling backwards, completely taken by surprise. He shoved the walker off and pointed the flashlight in its direction. His eyes widened when he noticed the group of walkers behind the one he had just shoved off. They must have wandered in but who had left the door open?

The dead came at him. Daryl grabbed the mop from the floor and snapped it in half, shoving the sharp end through the first walker's eye. When he pulled it out, the dead man fell to his knees. Half of the walkers that had migrated in went after him, the rest followed the sound of the crying baby in the apartment by herself.

Daryl panicked when he remembered he had left Charlie in the apartment by herself. He had to find his way back to her but the way was clogged with rotting bodies and biting teeth. He used the broken mop and his crossbow to fight his way through the small mob. The crying buried itself under the sound of moans and coughs. In the dark he couldn't tell how many of them there were or where they were coming from.

One managed to grab onto his ankle Daryl tried to ascend up the stairs. He fell forward, dropping the crossbow and the wooden stick, now covered in infected blood. He kicked the hands back, smashing the dead woman's face in until she let go.

Daryl ran up the stairs, face covered in cold sweat. He could no longer hear Charlie crying. He pointed the flashlight and found three walkers at their door banging excessively, trying to get in. Daryl shot the first one with the crossbow. The bolt went directly into its head. He pulled the second one off, throwing it to the floor and smashing its skull in with the bottom of his boot.

The third walker threw itself upon Daryl but it was weak and practically all bone. He pulled the bolt out of the first walker's skull and shoved it into the eye of the last one. After he tossed the body aside, he opened the door and called out for the baby. The light revealed the small mattress was empty.

His heart stopped dead. He flashed the light around and noticed that her diaper bag was no longer on the table. One of the windows in the living room was wide open. He heard a familiar whistle and went to the window. A familiar figure stood across the street waving over at him. He could hear the small bundle in their arms fuss.

Daryl glanced over his shoulder to heard the dead coming closer. He gave their apartment loft one last look as he followed out the window and took the fire escape down to the street where Marion and Charlie were waiting.

"Charlie!" Daryl took the baby girl back from Marion's arms and held her close, "What the fuck happened?" He demanded, panting.

"I don't know. I heard a sound downstairs while I was up on the roof. I saw someone run off and the next thing I know the dead were filing in through the halls. I found her by herself."

He nodded. "Thanks."

Marion glanced up at the building; she could hear the dead inside. "We should get going. Find somewhere for the night."

Daryl said nothing and followed after her.

They creeped through the small town, hiding along alleyways and behind cars, avoiding the dead that lingered aimlessly around the streets. They were most active at night. Luckily Charlie had fallen back asleep in Daryl's arms and remained from making any sounds that would alert the rotting.

Marion lead Daryl to the back of a grocery store and jammed open the back door. "This way." She whispered and he followed.

"We should be safe here for the night."

"Someone must have let 'em in." Daryl muttered about the walkers back in the apartment.

"I only saw a figure running off."

"They probably tried to get in after they followed 'em."

Sighed, "Who knows but they sure screwed us over." Marion secured the area and then went to a shelf where she pulled out a sleeping bag and handed it to Daryl. "Here, for the kid."

"What about you?"

She shrugged, "I ain't gonna get much sleep after that shit. Get some rest. Tomorrow we gotta figure out what to do."

He nodded and watched as Marion went to the front of the store.

Daryl laid out the sleeping bag and set Charlie down. She fussed a little but continued her slumber. What had happened was a freak accident but it happened. Now he had to decide if the apartment was worth saving or if it was time to move on. He'd know in the morning.