Daryl Dixon was used to his nightmares.
They had become his faithful companion, long before the apocalypse. There were dreams about his father, the beatings, and his brother dying.
Daryl often dreamed about death. Rick said it was because Daryl was suffering from PTSD—but Daryl had been suffering his whole life. A couple of dreams were the least of his worries.
That morning, he woke up in a sweat, which was the usual, and his hand shot out to reach for his crossbow for some comfort. His hand curled around the handle and he waited for the calm to get him. He concentrated on his breathing, the rise and fall of his chest. He remembered who he was, where he was, and most importantly that he was alive.
He got up in his bed in the basement of Rick’s home. There was more than enough room with Tara and Rosita, or even Aaron now, but Daryl couldn’t fathom being away from Judith. He also really didn’t want to stay with Aaron. Being in that house would make the nightmares worse, but he made a point of it to go as often as he could.
The truth of the matter was though, Daryl couldn’t picture being away from Rick. Daryl doubted Rick would ever get over the death of his son. For a week after the fact he hadn’t even touched Judith, barely spoken to either him or Michonne. He had just whispered some words over and over again, locked up Negan and fell apart.
Let my mercy prevail over my wrath.
Daryl did not think that Rick would ever stop seeing it. His son being shot. Carl had survived so much, they all just naturally assumed that they would watch Carl grow up. That he would make it until the end. Then again, they had assumed that of the others, too.
So many people had died. They had rebuilt, they were stocking up on goods and supplies but there were some things that they would never be able to get back. People, loved ones.
With a sigh, Daryl got dressed. He grabbed his crossbow, put his gun in his holster and walked upstairs, unsurprised to see Rick already in the kitchen, on what was probably his second cup of coffee.
Daryl set his bow on the table and took Rick’s coffee away. “How long you’ve been up?”
Rick shrugged—his eyes were very red. “Dunno,” Daryl kept the mug for himself, taking a sip from it. “This ain’t gonna help. You know it makes you more anxious.”
Rick smiled softly, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “It keeps me awake.”
“Shouldn’t be awake, you should sleep.”
Rick glanced at him. “Are you ever going to stop taking care of me?”
Daryl shrugged. “Maybe when you start takin’ care of yourself.”
“And who is going to take care of you?”
“I can take care of myself.”
Rick chuckled and nodded. This was a conversation they had nearly every morning, just in different variations. Daryl finished off the coffee and told him, “You look like shit.”
Rick ignored him. “Are you going out today?”
“Got no choice. Winter’s gonna roll around soon, we gotta stalk up best we can. The less we leave durin’ winter, the better.”
“Take Tara and Rosita with you.”
Daryl had different plans for the girls but didn’t tell Rick that. If Rick knew Daryl was planning on going off alone, he wouldn’t let him leave.
Daryl murmured, “You should get out today. Go hunt maybe.”
Rick nodded, but Daryl knew he wouldn’t.
He got up and threw his crossbow over his shoulder, going over to Rick, putting his hand on Rick’s shoulder.
Rick closed his eyes. “You’ll come back,” it was a command. Rick didn’t mean to the town, he meant to me. Rick Grimes.
Daryl murmured, “Yeah,” because he would.
Knowing Tara would already have food for him, Daryl bypassed breakfast, quickly brushed his teeth to get rid of his coffee breath and left the house. It was an unbelievably nice day today, which was good. Today was going to be a long day, but a day, that if it went smoothly, would pretty much keep them good for winter. Trade ran smoothly between Alexandria, Hilltop, and The Kingdom, but Daryl would rather be safe than sorry. Thankfully, they had also come into twice as many goods and guns since Negan’s defeat.
Rosita and Tara were just next door, but before he made it there, he was already sidetracked.
Paul “Jesus” Rovia was walking up to him. Daryl chewed the inside of his lip anxiously.
That’s all Paul made him feel—anxious. Not in a bad way, but in that uncomfortable way that made his stomach feel like it was doing stomach flips.
Paul was dressed in his usual mission clothes, from beanie to boots. His handkerchief was hanging around his neck, showing off his strangely beautiful features—sharp cheekbones, mouth turned upwards into a smile, bright blue eyes. Hidden beneath his beanie were his adorable ears.
Daryl swore inside his mind. “What’re you doin’ here?”
Paul chuckled. “Good morning to you too, sunshine.”
“Did you sneak in again?”
Paul smiled wider still, waiting for Daryl at the bottom of the steps. They both knew Paul was more than capable of bypassing everyone who would ever stand on guard. “Maybe,”
“Gotta stop doin’ that, you’re puttin’ a damper on the watch.” Daryl scolded him. “You’re becomin’ a damn menace.”
“Yes talk down to me some more, it’s turning me on,” Paul said dryly.
Daryl rolled his eyes. “You done?”
“Why you here?” he asked, coming down the stairs. He walked over to Tara and Rosita’s, Paul right beside him. His hands were tucked behind him, folded on each other.
“For the good company.”
“Stop dickin’ around.”
“I don’t know why I’m here. I just can’t be there right now, so I came here, figured maybe you guys needed help with something or someone.”
Daryl rang Tara’s doorbell, giving Paul a most deadpan expression. “That code for Maggie sent you?”
Paul put up his hands in defeat. “You caught me,” he laughed softly. “She just wanted to see how he was doing.” He didn’t have to clarify who he was talking about. Everything revolved around Rick, everything always had.
“Exactly the same,” he knocked on the door three times. “TARA!” he shouted through from where he stood, looking back at Paul.
Paul leaned over the railing, trying to peek into the window. He snickered from whatever he saw, and shook his head. Daryl frowned and walked over to him but Paul put out his hand, it landing on Daryl’s chest, keeping him still. “They’re having a moment,” he laughed at Daryl’s face. “Let them finish.”
“Daylight’s waistin’.” Daryl mumbled, hiding his blush—from what they were doing, from Paul’s hand on him. It was too much, and also, not enough at all. “Got shit to do.”
“Don’t we all,”
“Apparently you don’t since you’re here with me.”
“Believe me, baby,” Paul smiled at him mockingly. “There isn’t a place I’d rather be.”
Daryl snorted and moved back to his side of the railing, rubbing his chest from where Paul’s hand had been. For a while, they just looked at each other—or, Daryl glared and Paul smirked back. That was the only way Daryl accepted Paul’s flirtations, because god, Paul never stopped flirting. Except Daryl never knew how to respond in the beginning, so Paul had discovered that if he said things sarcastically, they seemed to sit better with Daryl. Or at least there was a better chance of not getting hit.
Not that Daryl would ever actually hit him, but Paul pretended like he believed Daryl would. It was the polite thing to do. They both knew they were playing games, which in a way made it less of a game, because each of them basically knew when one was lying and one was telling the truth. Each of them waiting for the other to close the deal.
Daryl didn’t know if he had it in him to make a move. He didn’t mind this game, or not game, or whatever the hell it was, but he liked his safety more.
People died a lot in this world. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to give himself to Paul and then watch him disappear. He knew Paul knew that Daryl liked him, even though Daryl never flirted back. Paul knew because he was observant, and as much as Daryl tried to hide it, he was failing more and more every day. Every time they were on a run together, Daryl stayed closer to him than he needed to. Paul’s remarks to him were not meant with barks and snappish replies as they would have been at the start of it, but rather with a roll of the eyes, or playful banter right back. Like this morning.
Daryl snapped, “They’re takin’ fuckin’ long.”
Under his breath, Paul whispered, “At least someone is getting laid.”
“I heard that.”
Paul laughed. “I’m just saying it would do you some good.”
Daryl was about to reply but the door finally opened, and he sighed in annoyance, frowning as Rosita was pulling her hair into a ponytail and Tara was fixing her shirt. “Hey dudes,” Tara said.
Daryl stared at her. “You’re late.”
“Relax,” Rosita stepped out of the house, nodding at Paul. “We only took so long because you interrupted.”
Tara threw a granola bar at Daryl, who caught it easily. “So, what’s the plan?” she asked him, and then moved over to Paul, bumping knuckles. “Hey, Jesus,”
“Hello,” he sang.
Rosita glanced at him. “He’s coming with us?”
Daryl shook his head. “With you,” he corrected her.
Paul looked at him with a serious expression. “You think you’re going out there alone?” Daryl opened his mouth to argue but under her breath, Tara murmured, “I wouldn’t…”
So they decided to split up. Tara and Rosita were going to the gas station that was a couple miles away, only not found by others because half of it was surrounded by moss and the other half by walkers. Daryl suggested they take Aaron with them, so he could get out of the house as well, but they both said no. Rosita had a plan, and Daryl had enough of a mind to trust her. Paul had just happened to come with the massive RV, and they were going to take it to a warehouse a bit over an hour away.
“An hour?” Rosita snapped. “You were planning on doing that alone?”
Daryl sighed. “Back and forth—” he had known really, that it wasn’t a good idea, but he was hoping that word would make it back to Rick and Rick would want to come with him. Finally get out of the house. Instead, he was getting Paul. Jesus. Whatever.
“Besides,” Tara patted Daryl’s face. He pushed her hand away. “The RV means you can bring back everything you want at once. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky.” When Paul laughed and Daryl glared at her, Tara quickly added. “What?! Jeez, I meant with the haul over, God.”
“It’s Jesus, actually.”
Tara flipped him off, smiling at him as she made her way down the stairs. “Want to rumble with me smart mouth?”
“You bet,” he laughed, following her off.
Rosita crossed her arms as she and Daryl stood on the porch. “Remember when they argued all the time?”
Daryl nodded. “Good times.”
Rick was sitting at the table, looking at his hands. Michonne, at one point, had come down to sit next to him, her hand overlapping his.
“Daryl left,” she said, and her voice was home, comforting, and so Rick closed his eyes, trying to stay present. He hated those two words, every time that she said them. “You could have gone with him.”
“No,” Rick opened his eyes. He stared at the door, hoping Daryl would come back. Hoping anyone would come back. He was so tired. Tired of the death. He closed his eyes again and saw Carl, and that was too much so he forced himself to keep them open. “He’ll be okay.”
“Is he going alone?”
“No,” Rick shook his head. “Jesus is with him.”
“What?” Michonne asked, genuinely surprised. “He stopped by?”
“No,” Rick mumbled. “But he shows up at the right time. Always does. He’s either already here, or is going to find Daryl out there. Best thing I ever did was bet on Jesus. Daryl will be safe.”
Michonne turned Rick’s face so he was looking at her. They leaned forward and their foreheads touched. She whispered, “He would have been safe with you, too.”
Rick smiled sadly. “I’m not…I don’t want to go yet.”
“Maybe next time?” Michonne asked.
Rick nodded. “Maybe next time.” But in an effort to give her something, anything at all, he said, “We can go for a walk today if you want. Go see Aaron and Gracie?”
Michonne nodded, a small smile on her gorgeous lips. “Okay. I’ll go get Judith.”
Rick nodded, watching her go, and when she disappeared, Rick looked back at the door, waiting for Daryl or his dead son to walk through the door.