A/N: finally back to updating this after a bit of a hiatus, over half of this chapter sat written before I could continue with it - muses can be fickle, especially when the story comes to a bit of a turning point - thank you for your patience, and this should see regular updates again until I've finished out - I'd like to think this will be done in another 3 or 4 chapters, but the story may tell me differently
The Walking Dead and identifiable characters, places, and events are not mine - no infringement is intended or implied - my stories are written out of love and a need to create and are solely for entertainment purposes
She walked back slowly. There was little else to do and it gave her time to think. She watched as a small group of birds flew up in the distance. Pausing, she waited, gripping the pole tightly. In the past she wouldn't have given it a second thought. But now, it could mean walkers or something worse.
She stood still, waiting, watching. her heart hammering in her chest. Part of her wanted to run, but she knew staying still and assessing the situation was her best bet. She leaned against a nearby boulder, waiting.
Shane came out of the trees, glancing behind him and around the clearing. He stopped, looking far off in the distance. She turned to look where his eyes settled, but didn't see anything. Shane turned and headed back in the direction of the camp.
After he was out of sight, she decided to head for the trees where he had emerged. It seemed like he was hiding something, had been hiding something, and she wanted to know just what that was. They all their right to secrets, as long as those didn't compromise the group. But she felt like she needed more information about Shane. He could say he wanted her, but if he was hiding something, she wanted to know. She'd had her share of men and their secrets. She didn't need a repeat of Ed.
The woods were a different world than the meadow. It was darker there and the moisture hung thicker. It would be easier to be surprised here, so she was overly cautious. She stood still listening, observing. She knew if Daryl were here he'd be able to track where Shane had been. But her tracking skills were poor.
She heard a twig snap then felt a hand on her shoulder. "You had the right idea, but ya need help." Daryl squeezed her shoulder and came to stand beside her. 'sides, ya shouldn't be in these woods alone. At least in the open I could keep an eye out for ya." He smiled lightly as he scanned the ground. "Come on, this way."
They walked for a while in silence. She could not see what he followed, but it was clear to him. He would pause, taking even the slightest turn with deliberate care. At one point he crouched low to the ground and studied it for a few minutes, turning his head in confusion.
"Ya know, for someone who seems to know what he's doing all the time, he's pretty scattered on his own." Daryl lifted a bit of forest floor debris in his hands and let his fingers run over it, as if trying to coax a secret. "Truth is he's just as confused as the rest of us, just makes a better show of it." He let the debris fall from his hands and stood, looking around, hands on his hips.
"Whatever he's hiding isn't very big, because there is no trace of it. It must be small enough to hide on him. But if that's true, why does he need to hide it out here?"
As they walked along, she watched him. He was in his element, very much a part of his world. He was doing what he did best and his body was set with comfort and ease, not the tension he often had with her when they were alone.
She wanted to ask him if he'd been following her, but it was obvious, wasn't it? She just let it be for what it was.
He stopped and held up a hand. He motioned to two boulders leaning against each other. "I think that's where your boy hid his secret." He stood back, watching her.
She looked at him and then the rocks. Daryl had leaned back against a tree and had no intention of retrieving it, he was leaving it to her. She bent down on one knee in front of the boulders and slipped her hand into the space, searching blindly with it until she felt something. It was cloth, soft and worn. She pulled it from the space and turned to sit in front of the rocks, the small bundle in her lap.
It was a blue handkerchief. The same one likely he'd gathered the worms in that day. She looked up at Daryl, who continued to just watch her.
"Well, go on, unless ya don't want to know his big secret."
She loosened the corners that had been tied and let it fall open in her lap. She was most surprised that it was nothing really. She held up a set of keys and a wallet to Daryl. "Why would he need to hide these things?"
He came away from the tree and crouched down next to her. "I would suspect it's that he's trying to to hide. He pointed to a bracelet that was partly hidden in the folds of the fabric.
"This?" She questioned, pulling out a charm bracelet. "But why would he hide this?"
"I guess he has his reasons." Daryl smiled briefly and stood. "It must mean something to him or he wouldn't have bothered hiding it. Go on, put it back. These woods ain't safe and ya need to get back."
She resecured the package and placed it back in the space then sat back against the rocks, laying her head back to look up at him.
"Why did you follow me?"
"Why'd ya do a fool thing and go off into the woods alone?" He raised his eyebrows challenging her.
"You know why."
"I do and it was foolish. Ya could have just told me tonight. I would have come back on my own."
She just watched him a bit as he rubbed his fingers into his eyes. "You're always watching over me."
"'Cause somebody needs to. Don't need ya getting killed too. Enough have died on my watch."
"But you don't watch the others that way."
"Don't need it like ya do." He smiled at her, almost amused.
She got up and brushed off her pants, coming to stand hear him. Not quite in his space nor out of hit. "That makes no sense."
"It does to me."
She smiled at him and placed her hand lightly on his chest, letting it only stay a moment, before pulling it back to her side. "Thank you."
His breath caught and he stared at her, holding her eyes longer than he ever had before. He moved his head in the direction they'd come. "Come on, we're burning daylight." He gestured for her to walk ahead.
They walked back to camp in silence. She could hear the crush of his feet behind her the whole way, but when they entered the main camp, she turned and saw him move off in the direction of his cabin. She felt a mix of emotions, but mostly she wanted to be alone. As she approached her cabin she could see a small bundle of daisies. When she picked it up she saw it had been tied neatly in a bow with a long strand of grass.
As she picked up the flowers, she looked around the camp. They weren't from Daryl, he'd been with her. She was pretty sure they were from Shane, and that bothered her. He'd intentionally stopped on his way back from the woods and picked her flowers. Why was he thinking of her? What exactly did he want?
She brought the flowers in and lay them on the ledge, next to a couple of cranes she'd folded. She sat on the bed and rested her head in her hands. Is this what her life had become? Was it all so simple as daisies and folded paper? She pulled her feet up onto the bed and wrapped her arms around her knees. Simple was a choice, just as complication had been. And it was time to make a choice again.