Shane didn't care for the new girl.
He let Daryl know this two days after he brought her to camp.
"She will slow us down. I can already tell. She's not a fighter, she's a burden. We have enough of that shit already."
Daryl looked at him with tired eyes. "So you just would have left her? Alone and terrified? Probably would have."
Shane didn't respond.
"Yeah. Thought so.", Daryl said, turning to walk back to the rest of the group.
He didn't know exactly when it happened, but the alienation and bitterness he once felt toward these people had gradually faded into mutual appreciation and respect. Perhaps not so much for their resident hot head, but for the others. He wanted to keep them safe.
It was a cold day. Most of the group was huddled around a fire, talking quietly, enjoying a bit of down time.
The girl was sitting on a rock just outside the circle, as she had joined after everyone had gotten comfortable. She was grateful for all of them, and most of them accepted her without a second thought, but she still wasn't fully comfortable. She was shy to begin with and more than a little scarred by this new, cruel world.
Daryl found her in a nearly empty convenience store. She was cowering behind the counter. Her eyes went wide when they met his. He had his bow drawn, that was part of it, but also because he was the first living person she'd seen in a long time. Her relief didn't last long; as she quickly remembered in these times you fear the living almost as much as you fear the dead.
He put down his weapon and continued to look at her frightened face. She looked pitiful and defeated.
"Are you going to hurt me?" She stared at him.
"No…no. It's okay. …you hurt now?"
She shook her head.
He looked her over more closely. She was filthy, but that was nothing new. She had numerous cuts on her cheeks and arms, and she was shivering. She had long, dark hair and very pale skin, which made the cuts and dirt appear more severe. She couldn't have been more than seventeen.
"Bitten? Someone hurt you?"
She breathed deep and stood up. "No. I…was running in the woods. Got cut up by thorns and branches. There were walkers. I ran as far and as fast as I could, until I found this place. I didn't see them behind me, or any around me. I'm so tired and cold. Figured I'd take my chances in here."
"You have a weapon?", Daryl asked.
Her eyes glazed. Her voice quiet and strained, she said "I'm on my own."
Daryl thought for a minute. The sun was going down, it was getting colder. He wondered how long she had been alone but didn't want to bring up anything that would add to her grief.
There wasn't really anything to consider. "I have a group. A camp. You'd be…as safe as it gets."
She looked at him and he could tell she was trying to decide if she should trust him.
"I know…", he said. "I know. But I…we won't hurt you. We stay together. We watch out for each other. You can't make it alone."
She was silent for a minute, then stepped away from the counter. She looked into his face and her eyes welled up with tears. She didn't know what she was getting into, but she knew she'd be zombie bait for sure on her own. When she lost her father and her brother she abandoned any thought of comfort or safety. She was so desperate for it now, wanted it so badly, she felt herself let go and she believed him.
Tears ran down her dirty cheeks. Something heavy fell away inside her, and she allowed herself to be flooded with the feeling of hope. She didn't realize she was doing it, but she wrapped her arms around Daryl and smashed her face into his chest. And she cried.
He took in a breath. He could feel her icy skin through his clothes, and it sent a chill through his body. He felt for the girl, of course he did. Anyone alone in this alien place, especially a defenseless kid. But he wasn't the affectionate type, so he was surprised when he felt his arms around her, even moreso when he held her to him and said "It's okay. You're okay now."
Daryl sat down next to her and handed her an extra blanket. "You warm?", he asked quietly.
Her eyes brightened and she smiled at him with an innocence that made him stifle a sigh, though he didn't really know why. "Yes. Thank you."
They were all quiet for a while, not awkwardly so, just peaceful. Maggie was curled up with Glenn, Sophie and Carl were asleep. Lori sat against Rick, with the rest of them spread out around the fire.
Shane was halfway to his tent when he stopped to face the group. "Maybe we should take Rose shooting tomorrow. Teach her how to defend herself." He didn't look amused, his tone was dry.
Rick looked up. "I don't know if she's ready for that just yet".
"Why not? She's fine." He looked at Rose. "How old are you?"
Daryl felt her tense next to him.
"I'm 23.", she said quietly.
They were all surprised by this. Somehow no one thought to ask her, everyone collectively thought her much younger.
Shane laughed. "Twenty-three. So what's the problem, Rick? She's an adult. She's not injured or sick. She's good."
Rick was about to reply when Daryl stepped in. "Drop it, Shane. This isn't the time."
"Seems like a good time to me.", he said before making his way to his tent.