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Actions and Words

Chapter 1: Gotta Keep Goin’

Mood music: “A Reason to Fight” by Disturbed

It was no good, Daryl Dixon thought as he scanned the frozen wasteland beyond his post at the highest point of Alexandria’s fortifications. If the weather didn’t turn soon, the people here were going to go stir-crazy and fracture what little peace they had left. And wouldn’t that just be perfect- another community in the toilet because nobody could seriously deal with what had brought many of them here in the first place. In the seemingly endless winter months following the Fair and the fall of the Kingdom, he’d seen those displaced survivors and their hosts take more than a few verbal shots at each other (and had received a fair number himself for taking in Lydia, who many still considered the enemy), but more level heads had so far managed to intervene before things got out of control. How long that would continue was anyone’s guess- he knew all too well that stress and grief basically destroyed even a saint’s capacity for patience and understanding.

Part of him wanted to just walk off into the wilderness as he had after Rick’s disappearance (the same part that still refused to accept the idea of his adopted brother’s death), to not watch his loved ones tear each other apart. He’d seen that too often in his life. Of course, that was the very reason he couldn’t do it. He had to do what he could to keep them together, to keep them going even in this waking nightmare the world had become. If there was one thing he knew how to do, it was survive even when everything went to absolute hell, and he’d make good goddamn sure that was a lesson everyone else learned.

“Mr. Dixon?” Lydia’s voice called up to him from beneath the lookout point, breaking his wool-gathering. He leaned back to regard his new young charge curiously as she shifted from foot to foot in what he’d come to see as one of her more common nervous tics. He gave the girl a faint smile and jerked his head in invitation for her to join him, watching as she clambered up the ladder with only some awkwardness. She had yet to really open up much to him, but he got that. She was so new to so many things, and even the best words were useless when talking to someone who’d had nothing but a feral existence for most of her life. Even now, months later, most people from the communities still eyed her with suspicion and sometimes blatant hostility. He, of course, made sure they regretted their outbursts, but he could see the hurt in the girl’s eyes, in her almost perpetually hunched frame, as though she was always cringing away from being hit. It gave him flashbacks and made him want to hunt down her mother and put a bolt between the freak’s eyes. Not that he didn’t want that, anyway…

They stood in silence for a while, each lost in their thoughts, until she got up the courage to ask if he could teach her to fight. “I don’t want to be weak anymore. I need to prove to myself and everyone here that I can be useful. I want to prove that Henry was right to help me.” Her smile wavered at the memory, but there was a flicker of fire he hadn’t seen in her until now.

“Aint gonna be easy, tellin’ ya that now. Gonna take a while.” Daryl warned and, at Lydia’s nod of understanding, shrugged and straightened as he turned fully toward her. “Sure. Be good for you t’ learn somethin’ to protect yourself. When ya wanna start?”

She bit her lip as her eyes skittered away; she clearly hadn’t expected him to take her request seriously or so readily. “Um… when you’re not on watch… I guess?”

He nodded and turned his gaze back to the landscape before them. “May as well learn this too, while you’re at it. Learnin’ to really see an’ study the world around ya is one o’ the first steps to bein’ a good fighter. Don’t do no good to be tough as nails if y’ can’t read things right.” Daryl gestured at the expanse before them. “Lot of people, when they look at stuff like this, see a big stretch o’ nothin’. Ain’t true. There’s always somethin’- an animal to hunt or be wary of, an enemy, a friend in need. Gotta spot the difference from as far off as you can so you ain’t surprised an’ taken down.”

She considered that in silence for a while, staring out at the snow, before frowning a little and turning her head in his direction a bit. “Why don’t more do that, do you think? My mother’s people don’t bother- they just go where they want and let the horde do the work for them. But I know now that’s not normal, so… why? Isn’t it safer your way?”

He shrugged and leaned his forearms on the wall. “Most didn’t grow up like I did. When everything went to shit years ago, lot o’ people couldn’t deal. Had no clue how t’ survive on their own. So they died, wised up or went nuts. Maybe your mom lost it like that, or maybe she was always a crazy asshole like my old man, dunno. Guess in the end, it don’t matter ‘cause here were are. Some got a natural talent for it an’ others don’t. Is what it is. But everybody got somethin’ they can do in this world if they know how to use it.”

“You think so?” Hope flickered to life on her face at the idea of having a new purpose, something to distract herself. He could just about see the possibilities hanging in the air around the girl as the wheels turned and an answering twitch of a smile rose on his face. He’d never thought about having a kid, especially after the collapse, but damn if this one wasn’t starting to feel like blood.

“Sure, and don’t let nobody tell you different. You can be just as good or better than any of ‘em if ya work at it.” Lydia’s eyes dropped to her feet at the mention of the others and he swore inwardly. Baby steps, Dixon, baby steps. He sighed and gripped her shoulder bracingly, giving her one of his few direct gazes. “Hey. Don’t worry so much what they think. Wasn’t your fault, what happened- you just got caught up in it, is all. If you notice, I ain’t exactly the most popular guy ‘round here, either. Don’t matter to me. I just handle my business an’ let ‘em handle theirs.”

She stared at him as though his uncaring attitude was completely lost on her. For a teenager in search of a place to belong, that must seem downright unnatural. Maybe it was, but it was the only way he knew. People either accepted him or didn’t, and that was that.

She mulled that over for a while, eyeing him with disbelief and maybe a little wonder. “Do you really not care about what anybody thinks of you? Doesn’t it hurt?”

“Used to, and I used to get mad as hell ‘bout it, too. Angry at the world and everybody in it.” Daryl backed away with a small, wry smile and shoved his hands in his pockets, gaze skittering away. “Some gave me a shot, though, prickly as I was. You’ll find ‘em too, kid.”

Eyes bright with unshed tears, she sniffled and threw her arms around him in a sudden, grateful hug. He probably should’ve expected it, given the state she was in, but it still made him freeze in surprise for a moment. Stuff like this almost always caught him off-guard, even now. Still… even if it made him feel awkward and uncomfortable, the girl needed comfort and he understood that a lot more than he’d ever admit. Sighing, he held her close and tucked her head under his chin, letting her take whatever shelter she could find against his shoulder.

A flash of silver in the window of a building across the way caught his eye and he could’ve shot himself in the foot with his own crossbow for the guilt. Carol.