Hiya readers!

So here's the first chapter of yet ANOTHER Caryl AU I've been mulling about for...literally months.

I have to say it's already taking a life of its own, and while I have some ideas stored away for future chapters, this seems to be another one of those "just wingin' it" fics. (Here's a heart-cruncher: Most of my fics are written this way.)

Also I apparently like the flashback thing I started doing with Grey, and I can already tell you that this fic is probably going to have a LOT more of them. So...just forwarning on that.

Also, I disclaim all the things, as I usually do, because I don't want to get sued because I don't have any money.

Enjoy guys!

They ran.

So hard and so fast, that the air in his lungs had turned to fire and his chest felt bruised from the effort of inhaling his next breath.

His legs felt like rubber, weak and wobbly even as he jumped the fallen trees and jutting roots to keep pace with the man ahead of him.

He kept running long after they'd lost sight of her, long after her terrified cries had echoed away from their ability to hear.

He kept running despite the howls in the distance behind them, the gunshots cracking in response and the occasional roar on the wind ahead.

He kept running when Rick slowed enough to look back at him, and the look on his face was one of hopelessness, of resolution to what they knew had probably already happened.

Daryl kept running, heaving, the bow on his back smacking into his spine with every step, the rifle in his hands growing hot and slippery with his sweat.

He knew what they would find, if they actually caught up to the pack that had taken her.

He knew.

He just didn't want to admit it.

A scream jerked him awake.

He stiffened, eyesight instantly adjusting to the darkness around him. He had finally settled down on top of the RV, fallen asleep as Dale took over watch.

Daryl peered at the man holding the rifle, looking back at him with concerned eyes.

Not Dale.

Rick had taken his place at some point.

And he hadn't even heard them move.

"You hear that?" his question had Rick cocking his head in confusion, looking around the caravan before turning back to him and shaking his head.

"Hear what?"

Daryl stilled, holding up a hand and listening to the sounds of the woods nearby.

He inhaled, deep, smelled the dirt and grass, bark and leaves, the pungent odors that signaled something living…rabbits and squirrels, mice and moles…

He heard them in the trees, heard the tiny squeaks and rustles they made as they foraged in the relative safety of the thick brush around them.

No screams.

No human scents aside from those of the group…

He frowned.

"Nothin'. Think I was dreamin' it."

Rick held his eyes in the eerie light of the lamp nearby, and Daryl caught the sympathy that flashed in them before he turned away and raised his rifle, peering through the scope to look down the highway as if he'd seen something.

Daryl chewed his lip and watched quietly.

There was nothing out there to look at.

But Rick didn't want to ask him what he'd been dreaming about.

Daryl was sure he could already guess.

The sun had gone down but a strange, red glow surrounded them as they broke past the thick forest into patchy, open spaces. Daryl looked up to find the giant, blood-orange moon rising over the trees.

He glanced at Rick and they kept moving, the snarls ahead getting louder, closer…

They stopped short as the suffocating stench of blood and entrails practically punched them in the face.

Daryl felt his head swim as the light above cast down on the small pack they'd been chasing.

And the girl they'd taken as their prey.

Rick stumbled backwards next to him, a hand flying up to cover his mouth as he suddenly doubled over, gagging into the field beneath their feet.

It was like something out of a goddamn horror movie, a nightmare he couldn't wake up from no matter how hard he pinched himself.

Daryl swallowed thickly. His head swam again.

The monsters in front of them stopped their feasting at the sound of Rick's wretching and the crimson moonlight glinted against the blackish sheen of blood on their exposed teeth.

He clenched his jaw tight against his own reflex to vomit and raised his gun.

"Fucking pieces of—"

He fired.

The sun rose on Daryl and Rick sitting in silence atop the Winnebago, and the chirping of birds accompanied the sounds of movement beneath their butts.

The door to the RV creaked open and he peered over the side to find Carol sliding out, the younger Green daughter not far behind. The little blond hopped a bit as she stepped on a rock on the asphalt, and Carol reached forward to steady her before pointing the girl back into the RV to fetch her shoes.

Beth re-entered as Lori came out, bulging belly cradled in both hands.

Daryl instinctively sniffed the air and could smell something strange around the woman: not quite blood, but something close.

Something that told him that baby wouldn't be long in coming.

Dale and T-Dog emerged from one of the trucks behind them, and Daryl nodded their way in greeting. He'd come to respect the old man for more than one reason over the many months they'd been on the road, one of which being that Dale had willingly given up his precious RV to the women, letting them take most of the comfort and shelter to be had in their little camp.

Out of another car came Glenn and Maggie, shoulders brushing with every step they took.

Daryl watched the farmgirl squeeze Glenn's hand and stare at the rising sun soberly.

The Greene sisters had lost just about everything months back, and it was, to an extent, their fault. Drama had turned to dumbass decisions which had turned to dangerous situations and saw their farm and family paying every price to be paid.

But as with all of the fuck-ups to fall on their haphazard little family, they all chose to move on and push forward rather than play the blame-game.

Daryl figured Rick'd had more than enough of that to last him a lifetime.

To a lesser degree, he had too.

He was scrambling away, legs pulsing with pain and the rapid gunshots behind him were being lost to the burn in his blood. Roars and a shout repeated in his ears but he couldn't find the source of either.

Everything around him was red, red, red, and the pain was spreading.

He'd been bitten, torn into hard, and he knew it.

He didn't know where he was going, but at some point he'd dropped his gun and just started moving, a panic in his brain telling him to get away, get away, before the burning blood went wild.

Leaves flew into his face but he couldn't feel them.

His skin was getting tight. His face was hot and an ache was setting into his bones.

He struggled to catch his breath, and he tripped on a limb just as he broke out of the woods into a dark, quiet field.

Daryl lifted his head from the soft grass beneath him and heaved.

Bile rose in his throat and he just barely recognized the shadowed form of a barn before the field he lay in turned upside-down and the world went dark.

A/N: So I like Dale okay. Dale apparently can't die in my AU's. He just DOESN'T. He's just THERE because he CAN'T die because REASONS okay.