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while i breathe, i hope

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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.

Lori.

Andrea.

Hershel.

Beth.

Abraham.

Glenn.

Eric.

Morgan.

Eugene.

Carl.

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?”

“Just about,”

“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.

 

Chapter Text

“Can’t I just—”

“No,”

“Daryl please, it’s really—”

“I said no,”

“But I—”

“For fuck’s sake, fine!” Daryl threw his hand up in defeat, putting it back on the steering wheel. He sighed and Paul grinned in victory as he leaned forward, putting in the CD that he knew Daryl hated. It was another part of their game, something that Paul liked to take advantage of. Mostly because if Daryl really didn’t want to hear it he would have put up a longer fight.

Paul chuckled and leaned his head back against the seat, looking at Daryl. “You know, I don’t know what you have against Coldplay.”

“Just borin’,” he mumbled.

“They’re not boring. Their lyrics speak to me.”

“Don’t really care about music,” Daryl shrugged.

“What kind of monster doesn’t care about music?” When Daryl shrugged again, Paul tapped his knuckles on Daryl’s shoulder to get his attention. Daryl threw him a look and Paul grinned. “We have like, another half hour before we reach this warehouse which I’m pretty sure you’re just bringing me to so you could finally get rid of me. So please talk to me, so I don’t lose my mind.”

Daryl snorted. “You ain’t that easy to get rid of.”

“Such lukewarm sentiment.” He chuckled, turning it down a little. “You know,” he said leaning back. “You should come to Hilltop with me, after we make it back.”

“Why’s that?”

“Maggie really misses you,” Paul looked at Daryl carefully, and as he expected he saw the familiar tightening of his hands over the wheel. The tension in his shoulders. His narrowed eyes. “And you know, she’s going to give birth in like two months or something so she’s really emotional all the time.”

Daryl looked at Paul briefly. “Really emotional? That’s what you’re givin’ me?”

“Subtly was never my strong point,”

“Liar,”

“Fine,” Paul agreed. “Subtly with you was never my strong point.” He smiled when Daryl rolled his eyes. “She needs you.”

Daryl huffed. “I hate bein’ there. All those people that you brought back.”

“Christ, this again,” Paul shook his head, annoyance pricking at him. “We had this argument already didn’t we? Like months ago?” he knocked on the dashboard to give himself emphasis. “Ring any bells?”

“Yeah, and I still don’t agree with you.”

“Shocking,”

“Hey,” Daryl turned up the music. “You’re the one who wanted to talk. Fine by me if we don’t.”

Paul turned it back down, fired up now. “No, no, let’s talk. You’re clearly harboring some feelings about this situation so go ahead, speak your mind.”

“You already know how I feel.”

“Great,” Paul snapped. “Well guess what, it’s been working out great with those people. They’ve adapted, they aren’t able to hold weapons yet and they haven’t complained. They work the fields and help out where we need them. A few caused trouble and were exiled. It’s been great.”

“Jesus, man, what do you want from me?” Daryl asked him seriously. “You know I don’t like it.”

“You’re the one who brought it up!”

“No, you brought up Maggie.”

“She misses her friend,” Paul growled at him. “She loves you.”

Daryl didn’t say anything. He concentrated on the road for the bit, and Paul had to look away. It took a lot for him to be really angry about something, and he wasn’t quite at that point yet, but he was definitely frustrated. He had the same discussion with too many people for it to not get under his skin. As he stared out the window, his chin propped up on his hand, he almost closed his eyes until Daryl spoke.

His tone was surprisingly soft, for someone who always spoke like he was growling. “You got me out of there,” he mumbled. “You saw me. You know what happened.”

Paul did know. Shame pricked at him, because he knew that’s why Daryl didn’t agree with it, but yet, they kept butting heads about it. He looked over at Daryl, staring at his outline. Paul knew, in detail what had happened. He knew not because Daryl had told him, but because within battles, taunts and threats were thrown around and Paul was able to fit the pieces together on his own.

Especially when Negan had called him doggy.

“I’m sorry,” Paul said sincerely. “I understand where you are coming from, but do you at least see where I’m coming from?”

Daryl nodded slowly. “You’re a peacemaker,” he looked over at him. “S’why Maggie likes you so much.”

Paul mumbled childishly, “Just Maggie?” but there was a bit of hope in his words, but he didn’t look at Daryl to see his reaction. Instead, he looked away, guilt, annoyance, and anxiety nipping at all sides of him. He kept his head back, staring out the window and sighing.

As much fun as it was to play these games, liking Daryl Dixon was a terribly complicated thing. It offered no push or pull, but a standstill. They flirted, and played games, and gave little bits to each other, but it never went anywhere. Paul knew he could not afford to be pushy with someone like Daryl, because Daryl Dixon’s sexuality was as fragile as his mental state. So instead Paul had this. He was aching for more from the person most afraid to give it, and too deep in to bother looking for this with anyone else.

Really, it’s not like he tried hard to find it with anyone else as it was. He only wanted Daryl.

By the time they had made it to the warehouse, Paul was itching to move. It was not so much that he could not sit still, but sometimes being in a confined space in total silence made him anxious. He chalked it up to being brought up in a group home. He had always been around people. He liked noise.

“Gotta plan?” he asked, as they came to the warehouse.

Paul leaned forward, unbuckling the seatbelt. “Yeah,” Paul assessed the situation quickly, “I don’t know how no one has found this place—”

“Far from the city. Surprised they had a warehouse here anyway,” he turned off the RV and grabbed his weapons. It was eerie, the way there were no walkers around. “Alright well, we can roll up the door, keep the RV by the entrance to make our trips quicker.”

“There’s gonna be some walkers inside.”

“There’s none outside.”

“Exactly. That place ain’t gonna be in pristine condition.”

“Alright, so we’ll do the door bit.” Paul said, switching places with Daryl. Daryl moved to go and pen the back doors, and watched as Paul rode up to the front doors, and then backed up so their back was facing the front of the warehouse. Paul turned it back off and walked towards the back as Daryl leaned forward, smashing his fists on the door, loud as he could. Paul readied his gun, and they waited as they always did.

Five minutes later, Daryl did it again.

Three minutes after that, Daryl did it once more.

Paul grinned, “Maybe Tara was right. Maybe today we get lucky.”

“That, or the walkers are on the upper level.”

“We can start from the bottom,” Paul said, moving beyond Daryl to pick at the locks. “Maybe we’ll find everything we need anyhow. When the RV is free we can leave.  We know it’s here, we can always come back.”

Daryl nodded. Paul smiled as he got the door opened—they made a good team. Though they thought differently about many things, they knew how to get a job done.

“Get the lights,” Paul instructed.

Daryl searched for them and breathed a sigh of relief when they went on. It would be a pain to go through a warehouse with a flashlight.

Daryl murmured, “Small stuff in the backpacks,” he looked around him and grabbed the huge trolley that was nearby. “We can move the rest around with this.”

“Do we split up?” Paul asked.

“Nah,”

Paul smiled. Good.

So they began—Daryl pushed the trolley in the middle of whatever aisle they found themselves in while they staked things on it or in their bags. This must have been a warehouse for general stores because there seemed to be everything they needed or could want. There was no upper level which made their lives monumentally easier.

“Maybe it wasn’t a warehouse,” Paul mused, shoving mountains of medication in his bag. “Maybe it was a safe house in case for something like this.”

Daryl seemed to understand what he meant. “Lots of different kinds of shit.” That was an understatement. Although the shelves were not full—there was still so many things that would be of good use. Medicine, canned goods, bandages, toiletries, hygiene products, and even books.

Paul sighed, running his hand along the spine of a Jane Austen book. “I wish these were a necessity.” Daryl glanced at him but he didn’t say anything, so Paul asked, “Do you like to read?”

Daryl shrugged. “Guess so,”

“Sometimes I forget how good you are with small talk.”

“Funny.”

They made their first trip back to the RV, filling up about half of the space. When they continued, Paul took it upon himself to grab condoms.

Daryl looked at the box. “Really?”

Paul offered the box to him. “Want one?”

“Asshole, I don’t need one,”

Paul laughed softly and continued to walk, very aware of Daryl’s eyes still on him. Because Paul knew Daryl would not ask, Paul offered him something instead. “Safe sex is important.”

“I know that.”

“So why are you looking at me like I grew another head?”

Daryl mumbled in his—‘I’m too cool to speak at a normal volume and I need to pretend to be grumpy instead’ voice. “Just didn’t know you were fuckin’ around.”

Paul hid his smile. “What is it to you who I’m fucking?”

“It ain’t.”

“Are you sure?”

Daryl glared at him. “What does that mean?”

“You just seem very interested in my sex life suddenly.”

“Ain’t interested in shit,” Daryl grabbed some more canned goods, stocking them up on the trolley. “You brought it up.”

“Well I’m not fucking anyone, in case you’re wondering.”

“I ain’t wonderin’.”

“Fine,”

“Fine,”

Paul sighed. “You know Daryl I—” but Paul never finished what he was saying because from nowhere, he was attacked. A walker appeared for him, teeth clamping down on his jacket. Paul swore and ripped himself away in time before the jaw closed stepping backward. His foot stepped on Daryl’s, but it caught wrong and Paul felt too much ankle for a foot. Too many things happened at once.

An arrow shot through the air and got the walker through the head.

Daryl groaned in pain.

Paul felt an arm close around his torso, keeping him close to Daryl’s hot body. And Paul meant hot as in hot this guy was running on a whole other temperature. Suddenly those sleeveless shirts made sense.

They tumbled to the ground, Daryl taking the full impact. Paul tried to move, but Daryl didn’t seem keen on letting go, and so half rolled on top of him.

Daryl was red-faced, eyes furious with worry. Paul put a hand on Daryl’s chest, good to know that his touch still meant control to a certain degree. He pushed Daryl back, but Daryl was already preoccupied and struggling with Paul’s jacket.

“Daryl, I’m okay—”

“You were bit,” Daryl tried to shift—but pain clearly had shot through him. Paul sat up, pushing Daryl back but stopped moving altogether when he felt Daryl’s hand in his hair.

It was tight.

Commanding.

Shaking. Shaking a lot.

Daryl was afraid. Paul had to figure out how to calm him down. Slowly, he breathed out, not quite believing that Daryl was losing his composure right now, his shaking hand an indication of what he was feeling inside of him. “You’re hurt,” Paul said softly, not looking away from Daryl’s eyes. Daryl was being commanding but his eyes were tight with fear.

“You were bit,”

“Daryl, if you relax, you’ll see my jacket isn’t even torn. There’s no blood,” he put a hand on Daryl’s shoulder, squeezing him gently. “No pain,” he said with a small smile.

Daryl’s very focused eyes finally tore away from Paul’s face and went down to Paul’s jacket, looking over at it. Paul smiled as best he could, as warmly as he could muster when Daryl slowly released the death grip on his hair. The hunter said nothing so Paul moved Daryl on his own, pushing him back and lifting his pants to look at his ankle.

“Looks like you twisted it, maybe a sprain.” He said, pressing against it, doing his best to feel the bones. “Nothing is broken, or fractured.” 

Daryl had apparently found his voice. “You a medic now?” It sounded hoarse like some people sounded after they were done crying.

“I’m a man of many talents,” Paul smiled gently. “We have more than enough, I can send out others to make a trip here. We should get back to Hilltop.”

Daryl shook his head. “Alexandria—”

“Daryl, Hilltop is closer to here than Alexandria. You need a doctor, an actual one to be sure there’s no real damage. I’m making guesses, and I won’t jeopardize you.” 

“Rick—”

Paul sighed. “You’ve been gone before, right?”

Daryl shook his head. “I’m only comin’ if you send someone to Alexandria to let Rick know.”

Paul knew he would not win this argument so he nodded and hauled Daryl up. They tested the ankle and found that although he could not put pressure, he was able to limp his way to the RV. Paul didn’t let him, but it was worth noting and made them feel better. When Paul got him seated in the passenger’s seat and loaded the rest of the stuff he climbed in the driver’s seat and sighed. 

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Daryl looked over at him. “For what?”

“It’s my fault you got hurt.”

“Been hurt worse.”

Paul frowned as he started the RV. “That’s not really comforting.” He began to drive, maneuvering his way back to the road. 

“Ain’t meant to be, just the truth.” He grimaced as he fixed his position, trying to get comfortable. “I’ll be fine.”

Paul rolled his eyes. “I know you’ll be fine, that’s not the point.”

“Don’t matter,” Daryl told him, with that same kind of final tone that had been echoed in the grasp of his hand. “You coulda died. Don’t give a fuck about my ankle.”

Paul was quiet for a moment, oddly touched by the sentiment. He occasionally forgot that Daryl liked him, that Daryl worried about him, that Daryl cared at all about him. When you’re on the battlefield fighting for your life, your mind isn’t exactly thinking ‘does he love me or does he love me not’. Plus, Daryl never gave him much to go on.

But then there were these moments, where Daryl gave pieces of himself that Paul liked to think he didn’t give anyone else. 

Except to Rick. 

And suddenly that ugly twist of jealousy was back. Paul wanted to know the whole story to that relationship. It was platonic, but Paul had a feeling that once upon a time, it had not been. At least for Daryl. 

Paul said carefully, “I didn’t know my well-being was of great importance to you.”

“Don’t gotta sounds so haughty about it.” Daryl grumbled. “Obviously I care.”

“Obviously,” Paul mocked. 

“You’re part of it, have been for a while. Good fighter, take care of Maggie. You matter.”

The praise twisted inside of Paul and filled his lungs with breath. God. He was deep in for this guy. “Is that all?” He asked, making sure to keep his eyes on the road.

Daryl paused before asking, “What else is there?”

Paul bit back a grin. “A lot else.”

“You know I...” Daryl sighed angrily. “Why you gotta make everythin’ so damn difficult?” 

“I’m not making anything difficult.”

“You almost just died and now you’re askin’ me about...that.”

Paul almost laughed. “I’m asking you about that because I could have just died. Don’t you want something more?”

“This ain’t fuckin’ enough?” he asked, not quite angry, but more like he was exhausted. As though talking about this tired him out more than fighting against walkers, fighting for their lives ever did.

“No,” Paul said seriously. “No, I don’t think that it is. You like me, I like you, so I’m not sure what it is we’re doing here anymore.”

“You don’t know anythin’ about me,” Daryl snapped. “That why you came here with me? To corner me?”

“Yes, because I have nothing better to do.” Paul rolled his eyes. “What is it with you? Why can’t you say as you feel? It’s been months we’ve been circling each other and—”

“Man enough!” Daryl exclaimed. “I don’t wanna do this with you.”

“A discussion, or this,” he asked, pointing between the two of them.

Savagely, Daryl growled. “There is no this.”

“Believe me Daryl, I’m painfully aware of that.”

“You know, fuck you Jesus,” he shook his head. “You know I ain’t...you know it ain’t easy like it is for everyone else.”

“These things are never easy.” Paul shot back. “You’re choosing to make it this way.”

“You don’t know a damn thing.”

Paul couldn’t technically argue that, only because it was true, Paul barely knew anything about Daryl. He knew he liked him, very much, because of the things he had learnt like Daryl’s loyalty, humbleness, faith, and so on. But he knew nothing about Daryl’s personal life. “So explain it to me then!” Paul yelled. “I know barely anything about you! Is it because of what happened? With Negan?”

“No,” Daryl said, with that final tone again.

“So?”

“None of your business.”

“Fine,” Paul snapped again. “Whatever. I’m done.”

“Good,”

“Great!”

And they didn’t talk for the rest of the way.

 


 

“This is stupid,” Daryl snapped.

“It’s just a few days.” Paul sighed tiredly. Maggie was sitting on the couch smiling tenderly at them.

“Doesn’t make it any less stupid.”

Maggie got up and walked over to the bed, sitting down on it and patting Daryl’s knee. “If you do as you’re told, you won’t have to stay here very long.” Paul crossed his arms from where he stood, aching to be in Maggie’s position. She curled her hand through his hair and pushed it back, like they were siblings. Paul supposed they were.

“Rick—”

“I already sent someone to go inform him, they left as soon as you got here. I also sent two more people back with the RV, that way they can clean out the rest of the stuff. Everything is settled. When you’re better you can take Alexandria’s half and bring it back home. Okay?”

Daryl looked defeated, so he nodded. “Losin’ on all fronts today.”

Paul threw him a bored expression. “You flatter me.”

Maggie laughed softly and got up, patting Paul on the shoulder. “I’ll be back with some food later. We can all eat dinner together.”

Paul nodded. “Sounds good.”

She left them, leaving Paul and Daryl alone. For quite some time, Paul didn’t speak, choosing instead to walk around the trailer, tidying up and straightening out, emptying his bag. He frowned when he saw Daryl’s backpack in the trailer, opening it to see if they had accidentally forgotten to take the meds out, but it seemed it had been mostly emptied.

Except for one thing.

Paul’s eyebrows came together, and he pulled out Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, that he had found at the warehouse. Paul looked over at Daryl who was staring at him intently. “I thought you didn’t read much.”

“I don’t,” he murmured. “Saw you lookin’ at it. Wanted to…”

“Surprise me?”

“I guess.”

Paul nodded, laughing to himself. To think, they had been arguing before about their feelings for each other, and now, here Daryl was doing something like this. “Thank you, Daryl,” he said.

Daryl shrugged. “S’nothin’,”

Paul looked over at him. “It’s not nothing. It’s one of the most iconic love stories ever told. Have you ever read it?”

“Nah, never really had time for that kinda thing.”

“I can read to you,” Paul offered. He looked at Daryl hopefully and Daryl didn’t turn him away, which meant that Paul was treading safe waters. Paul did not dare to go on the bed, which he had given up for Daryl, but did take the chair and pulled it up, resting his feet on Daryl’s lap.

Daryl seemed to hesitate for a moment, before he put his hands on Paul’s legs. He swallowed.

Paul smiled, and he began to read.  

What they did not know, that outside the safety of their trailer, outside the walls of the Hilltop, the scout sent to Rick never made it to Alexandria.

Chapter Text

Rick knew he was dreaming because he was sitting next to Hershel Greene.

He was in that strange space between awake and asleep, where he felt his body in the bed, but his mind was somewhere else completely.  Right now, they sat on the grass, outside the prison. Hershel had his leg, and in the distance, Carl and Beth were talking. Rick tried to will his body to move but found he couldn’t. That was how he knew he was dreaming too—because these people were dead, this prison was no more, and if his son was alive he would have walked towards him and wrapped him up in a hug.

The prison was, in so many ways, Rick’s home. Even though he had lost his wife here, he had also shaped a family here. Michonne and he had met here. Daryl and he had become something far more concrete than anything he could have imagined. This place was home. Then it got taken.

Rick sighed. “Is Lori here?” Rick asked, feeling like his throat was closing.

“Of course she’s here,” Hershel said, glancing at him. His tone was obvious, as in, of course she is, this is in your head. 

Rick nodded slowly. “Is this the after?” He didn’t want to say heaven. Half of him believed in it because of the people he had lost, and half of him didn’t believe in God because it meant God was cruel enough to let all this happen. 

Hershel chuckled softly. “The after, and the now.”

Rick stared at his son in the distance. Unreachable. “It’s not the now.”

“Of course it is. We’re all with you.”

“Are you?”

That obvious tone again. “Yes.” 

Rick didn’t believe him. Or he believed him, because yes, the ones you loved were always with you, but it wasn’t enough. 

Rick admitted, “I’m tired, Hershel.” 

“I know son,” he patted Rick’s leg. “You were always a little more tired than the rest of us. That’s what made you a leader.” 

Rick didn’t smile, he felt bitterness rise up like bile. “I can’t save anyone.”

“You saved a lot of people. Not just from the dead. Daryl wouldn’t be who he is now if he hadn’t met you—”

But suddenly Rick’s mind was running a hundred miles an hour. 

Daryl.

Daryl.

Daryl.

Rick woke up. He was sweating. 

Michonne wasn’t in bed which meant he had slept past her. That happened sometimes, if Daryl was out or Michonne. Suddenly exhaustion overtook him and he did nothing but sleep until his best friend or lover returned. Soul mates. The two of them. Rick never thought it possible, but he did have two. One, a platonic soul mate, and another to love romantically. He was lucky for that, he knew. 

He got dressed, feeling uneasy and went into the bathroom quickly washing his face and brushing his teeth, bypassing breakfast. He felt it in him, something was wrong. In his heart, and with his body. He was very hot. 

That dream. His heart was cascading from him. 

He bolted down the stairs, slowing when he saw Michonne holding Judith and speaking to Rosita in a hushed tone. 

For safety, to feel a semblance of peace no matter how short-lived it would be, he grabbed Judith from Michonne and held her close. 

He said one word: “Daryl?”

Rosita was one of the few people who was never afraid of Rick. She spoke her mind and bowed to no one. It’s why Daryl liked her so much. “He’s not back.”

She didn’t add ‘yet’ at the end of her sentence, which meant that they all knew Daryl should have been back by now. His head was heavy, his heart to match. He wanted to cry but his eyes didn’t have the tears to shed. 

He was so tired. 

He kissed Judith’s forehead and handed her back to Michonne.

Then Rick crumpled to the ground.

 


 

“You’re kind of like Mr. Darcy,”

“Am not.”

“You so are, are you kidding? You don’t like to dance, you speak in grunts.”

“You don’t know if I like to dance or not.”

“Do you?”

“...no.” 

Paul smirked in triumph, and Daryl felt the smile glow inside of his body. “Thought so.”

Daryl’s twisted ankle was more than okay, but he was confined to the Hilltop for another day. It was making him extremely nervous that the scout had not yet returned but Maggie had calmed his anxiety by saying that he probably stayed the night in Alexandria. Besides, Daryl had to admit, he was greatly enjoying Paul’s company. He forgot how easy it could be with Paul when he let his guard down.

He grabbed the book from Paul’s hands who didn’t protest, but watched him with amusement instead. “S’not as borin’ as I thought it would be.”

Paul smiled brightly. “Jane Austen is anything but boring.”

“Didn’t say it wasn’t borin’, just a little less than I thought.” He grinned when Paul slapped his leg. “Hey, I’m injured.” 

Paul snorted dramatically. It was such an awful sound that Daryl even chuckled.  “Yeah and I’m really Jesus Christ.” 

“Nah, you’re prettier,” Daryl responded absentmindedly. When the words slipped he clamped his mouth shut, his heartbeat in his ears with the realization of what he had just said. He chanced a look at Paul who was smiling softly. “Jesus, I-"

“For the love of all holy things,” Paul laughed, putting a hand on Daryl’s shoulder. “Don’t make an excuse. Let me have this one thing.”

Daryl bit his lip but nodded anyhow. He didn’t really want to take it back because it was the truth. But he didn’t know how to be the person that Paul wanted him to be so he stayed quiet. 

Like usual, Paul offered him something instead of silence. “I always liked Elizabeth,” he murmured. “She’s probably my favourite character that Austen ever wrote. She matched Darcy at a time where women weren’t really supposed to. She was smart. Mostly though, how much she loved her siblings.”

Daryl handed him back the book, swallowing before he asked, “You lived with a lot of other kids.”

Paul nodded softly. “Yup. Worked there too even after I turned eighteen. All those kids were my siblings in a way. I had to take care of a lot of them.”

Daryl knew how that went. Daryl wasn’t the oldest brother but it always felt like he was taking care of Merle. “Seems right. I can see you takin’ care of others. You do it for me.” He forced out, taking a chance. Dipping his toe into the water of possibility. Here in this trailer where he felt good and healed and relaxed. Those three things so rarely occurred at the same time. 

Paul’s eyes twinkled. “They don’t call me Jesus for nothing.”

“You sayin’ you’re my saviour?”

“Your words, not mine, baby,”

“Don’t call me that,” then, very hesitantly he asked, “How come you were in a home?” He knew how private family life was, and so was prepared to get no answer at all. 

Paul though, as usual, didn’t do what Daryl expected. “That’s more of a third date story, an after kiss confession.” He laughed loudly when Daryl glared at him. It was a full body laugh, his hands on his thighs, his shoulders shaking, his eyes shut. “That was so worth your expression.”

“We ain’t datin’” Daryl reminded him. “And we ain’t kissin’”

“Not yet,”

“What makes you think I wanna even kiss you?”

Paul snorted again. “Okay, Daryl.” When Daryl didn’t say anything, Paul gave him a lopsided grin. “Daryl, I know we enjoy our game we play but you know that I know that you like me. So you can save the ‘I’m straight speech’ for the walkers, because they’re the only ones who are going to believe you.”

Daryl huffed, crossing his arms and continued to glare at him. Daryl was going to bite a remark back at him but they were both saved by Maggie coming into the trailer.

“Hey,” She waddled in, her stomach looking too big for her slim body. It reminded Daryl of how Lori had looked. 

Like so many people and things, Daryl had a complicated relationship with Lori. He did everything she asked because he loved her and wanted to keep her safe, and yet lived in a state of jealousy around her because she was the one who got to kiss Rick goodnight. 

But he missed her. 

“Hey,” he moved over in the bed, immediately making room for her. 

Paul got up and smiled warmly at her. “I’ll leave you two alone.” Before either of them could make a point to have him stay, he was gone. 

As Daryl knew she would, she climbed into the bed. He made sure she was comfortable before taking his position. 

“How’re you feelin’?” He asked her softly. 

Maggie smiled sadly. “Scared.”

Daryl nodded. “We’re gonna be here when it happens.”

“As nice as that is,” Maggie shook her head. “You’re all there. It’s just me here.” Daryl didn’t need her to say the rest. He knew exactly what she meant. Hershel, Beth, and Glenn, her family were all dead. Then the rest of them had shacked up at Alexandria. Hilltop had Paul and Enid, but that was it, and she missed her family.

Daryl felt guilt stir in him. “I can, I can come more often,”

Maggie knew what Daryl wasn’t saying. “Rick,”

Daryl sighed, “Rick. We’ll make it work. I’ll come more often, or Rosita and Tara maybe can come live here for a while.”

Maggie nodded, her eyes far away, with that small smile she wore when she reminisced. “I knew, this whole time that I would be giving birth in the apocalypse. I’m not scared because you’re all at Alexandria. I’m scared because now that it’s almost here, I’m realizing that I have to have a baby without a grandfather, aunt, or husband.”

“M’sorry—”

“It’s not your fault.”

Daryl disagreed on every single level, even to this day, but arguing with Maggie about this would do nothing. So he clamped his mouth shut and sat next to her without speaking, because he knew what fights he should and should not pick.

Maggie patted his leg. “I have to admit, it’s been nice having you here.”

“I can stay—” but he couldn’t and they both knew it. Rick was waiting.

Maggie interrupted him. “You and Jesus seem to be getting along.”

“He’s not the worst,” Daryl treaded carefully.

Maggie laughed softly. “Not the worst? Daryl, come on.”

“What?”

“What do you mean what?”

Daryl frowned. “I don’t wanna talk about this.”

“You never want to talk about these things!” she exclaimed with a small laugh. “If you can’t talk about these things, you’ll never get what you want.”

Daryl raised his eyebrow, nudging her with his elbow. “And you know what I want?”

“Daryl needs Jesus.”

Daryl had to let out a small laugh under his breath. “How long you’ve been waitin’ to say that?”

“A while,” she admitted. “Look, I’m just saying. You two have a lot in common, more than you think. You want him, he wants you, the world is over and we have peace with Negan.”

Daryl didn’t know if peace was the right word. Negan existed in the dungeon in the Alexandria home, where there was always a guard. Peace was only brought about after he had been captured. After Carl died.

“Why does everyone want me with him anyway?” he mumbled, but his sentence was half-hearted. He already knew the answers, but a small part of him whispered if you hear it from someone else, maybe that’ll make it better.

“He makes you smile.”

Daryl stared at her. “Lots of things make me smile.”

“Okay, for one, we both know that’s not true,” she laughed while Daryl rolled his eyes. “He makes you smile differently. You’re not so self-conscious about it, not all the time at least. You let go a little more. Or it looks like you want to.”

“Awfully observant aren’t you?” he mumbled.

“He really likes you.”

Daryl sighed, “He doesn’t know me, not really.”

“So let him get to know you. Tell him about your dad. I’m serious Daryl, you have a lot in common with him.” she stared at him closely. “I know you’re afraid—”

“I ain’t afraid—”

“I know you’re afraid,” she continued loudly. “But sometimes, the thing you’re afraid of is the thing you need the most.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek tenderly.

That’s when the shouts started.

“Stay here,” Daryl growled, jumping over her and grabbing his crossbow. She called after him, about his ankle, but Daryl didn’t hear her properly, nor did he care. His ankle meant little to him now that he was in charge of protecting Maggie. He bolted out of the trailer and had his crossbow raised, but lowered it immediately when he saw who was there.

Paul was running up to them, his eyes wide with the scene. Daryl was watching with his heart in pain as Michonne was walking Rick up to them, but his arm was slung around Michonne, who seemed to be working very hard to make him walk at all. The car was parked badly. They had driven here fast, very fast.

Michonne didn’t see Daryl right away, Paul had reached them first. She said something to him hurriedly, and then Paul’s eyes shifted to Rick, then to Michonne and widened in understanding. He pointed at Daryl.

Michonne looked at him, and Daryl shot forward.

“Rick?” he asked, grabbing Rick’s face between his hands. “Rick, hey, it’s me.” The scout never made it, I’m sorry. Daryl knew, he knew that something had gone wrong. This was bad, this was bad. Rick was completely unresponsive, dead weight.

Michonne said, “As soon as he found out you weren’t back, he collapsed. He came back for a bit just to ask to get him to Hilltop.” That sat uneasy with  Daryl--that Rick knew there were only two possibilities. Either that Daryl was dead or with Paul. 

Rick knew where to look for him. Rick knew he would be with Paul. Daryl looked over at the scout, who was already looking at him. Paul was always looking. 

Today Daryl was looking back. 

Later, he snapped to himself. “Collapsed?” Daryl asked, looking back at Rick, turning his head the way he wanted so their eyes could meet. “Rick, hey, it’s me. Rick, buddy.”

“Daryl?”

“Hey man,” he helped Michonne, choosing that to get him inside was going to be the best thing for him. Maggie had climbed out of the trailer, her hand coming over her mouth as she took in the scene. There was no need for words—Daryl wasn’t sure any of them could say anything. Rick had never fallen this deep in before. Daryl’s heart was unsteady in how it beat, but right now there was just taking care of Rick.

"Why is his body so fuckin' hot?" he growled. 

They got him into Maggie’s bed, settling him in. Immediately they all got to work. Within the next thirty minutes, there were cut up fruits and vegetables on the nightstand next to him, a tall glass of water, a cold cloth on his forehead.

And they had taken his temperature.

Paul crossed his arms over his chest, the four of them in the living room downstairs. “Is it bad that I actually feel better knowing he has a fever?”

Maggie and Michonne were next to each other, holding hands. Michonne looked uncertain. “A fever can turn into something worse.”

“I know,” he said apologetically. “But its better that he’s collapsing from fever, instead of the fact that Daryl didn’t come home.” Daryl thought that maybe he agreed. Physical illness could turn to death, but sometimes the mental stuff was even worse. Sometimes that led to death too. 

Michonne looked at him sadly. “If we’re being honest, I think he collapsed because of his fever, only because hearing about Daryl drained him. Rick has been sick before. This was like…he gave up.”

Daryl shook his head. “He’s sick, it ain’t about me.”

Maggie stared at him. “Michonne says he hasn’t been taking care of himself.”

Paul offered, “Maybe it’s a twenty-four-hour thing. You know, some people get sick because of stress.”

Michonne looked at Daryl. “Whoever you guys sent didn’t make it back. I want to see if it was a Walker who killed him, or something else.”

Daryl answered immediately, “If he took a car, it’s somethin’ else.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow,”

“Woah,” Paul put his hands out. “No offence, but I don’t think the best idea is for the two of you to leave tomorrow while Rick is like this.”

Maggie nodded, looking at Michonne. “Stay.” It was half a command, and half a plead. Stay for Rick, and stay for me. The familiar guilt came back, Maggie was terribly lonely, he could see it now.

Paul caught Daryl’s eye. “I can come with you tomorrow.”

Daryl nodded. “Alright.”

Maggie clapped his hands together. “I’m starving,” she said. Immediately, Michonne helped her up and walked with her into the kitchen, the two of them talking in low voices.

Daryl sighed and fell onto the couch, his head in his hands. He heard Paul sit down across from him. Maggie’s advice was whirling around in his head, and paired with the anxiety he felt in his heart for his best friend, and what he wanted himself, he decided to let himself be.

Daryl lifted his head and told himself, he likes you. C’mon. Step up. Maybe it wasn't the time but it was also the perfect time, because after seeing Rick come apart this way, it did that unfortunate thing where it reminded him they were all close to death. This world didn't feel bad for them. 

He had to take what he wanted. 

Be brave. 

He was Daryl fucking Dixon. 

Shit, shit, shit.

“Rick’s my best friend,” Daryl told him. He almost rolled his eyes, because it was such an obvious statement.

Paul, however, didn’t make a joke. “He’ll be okay,” he smiled softly, trying to be comforting. They were so far from each other, even in this room, and Daryl craved Paul to be closer. To hold his hand. To feel better. To get affection.

How strange it was, to want something you didn't know how to ask for.

“Last time I saw Rick like that, was with Lori. Carl, he still had somethin’ to do after, y’know? He had to take down Negan. Had to capture him. With Lori he just…fell.” He would never forget that moment, seeing Rick crumple to the ground, become so much less of himself. “He’s gotta get better. He needs to get out.”

“He came here.” Paul reminded him.

“He needs to fight. He needs to get in it.”

Paul didn’t disagree, he just nodded slowly. “Maybe he’s tired of fighting.” He said softly.

“We all are,” But Daryl knew what Paul really meant. Except Daryl couldn't consider that possibility.

“You too?”

Daryl huffed. “Was tired a long time ago. Do it cause I have to. People to fight for, and protect.” Then, swallowing his fear, and his pride all at once he said, “Think I can leave you to fend for yourself?”

Paul grinned. “I thought we agreed that I was the one saving you.”

“Sometimes, I think you might be right about that.”

Paul, who was never quiet, seemed stunned. “Daryl…”

“Y’know,” he said quickly, forcing himself to look at Paul, his foot tapping on the ground, feeling anxious. “I…” the confession burst from him, a secret, a secret he had never said out loud, a secret he had promised would die with him. “I loved Rick for a long time. Thought…I mean, he did save me, but…when he got with Michonne after Lori I was…I don’t even know. Not mad. Not sad. Expected it I guess.” He looked for Paul’s reaction but the man seemed completely unsurprised with Daryl’s confession of his unrequited love for Rick Grimes. “Thought maybe all that stuff wasn’t for me. Then some small little punk made me chase him around a field, and nothin’ made sense anymore.”

It was more than he ever thought he would say. Admitting his past feelings for Rick was a lift off his chest but also terrifying. He didn't want to talk about it in depth, that would be for later, maybe, when, or rather if, they got serious but--

“I like the sound of this punk.” Paul smiled. 

Daryl smiled back, a crooked thing, tugging at his lips begging for more, but he was too afraid to give it. “He’s not so bad.”

Paul cocked his head. “Daryl, why are you telling me all this?”

“Because my best friend just collapsed in my arms, and Maggie’s been sayin’ weird shit to me. I just…I’m tryin’.”

“No offence, but if you’re forcing yourself—”

“I ain’t.”

“Prove it.”

“What?”

Paul was serious now, no joking to his expression. “Prove it. It’s not that I don’t believe you, but you’ve never really been so direct before, and it’s a bit out of character of you. So I want you to prove it, because if this is just coming out of your mouth because you had a bad day, then I don’t want it. Because really, I think I’ve had my heart broken enough by you.”

“You talk a lot.”

“I’m nervous.”

Daryl said softly, “Never meant to hurt you.” 

“I know,” Paul responded softly.

“I just ain’t good at this.”

“Believe me, I know that too.”

“Asshole.”

Paul chuckled softly, and got up from where he sat, walking slowly over to Daryl. Daryl got up, mostly because he couldn’t imagine sitting still while Paul walked over to him like that, staring at him like he was looking through his body—at his soul. In a way that only Rick knew used to look at him.

Daryl felt better getting it from Paul. It felt right.

“I’m not kissing you,” Paul said, grinning happily as they stood in front of each other. Daryl felt like a million volts of electricity ran between the two of them in the space between.

Daryl cleared his throat. “I ain’t kissin’ you either.” He mumbled. “Not yet.”

Paul’s eyes shone with that possibility.

Instead, Daryl leaned forward, closing his eyes and leaning his forehead on Paul’s. They stayed like that, their breath mingling. Daryl’s hand skating as they found their way to Paul’s hips, settling there. Paul wasn’t touching him, and he didn’t know if he was annoyed or grateful. Half of him wanted to reach for that last space, to kiss, to touch, but the other part was the part Daryl had lived with for so long. The fear. Fear of more, or the unknown, of someone actually loving him.

Paul’s hips, even though they were clothed, felt good under Daryl’s hands. Not in the way that he thought it would feel, the physical way, but the mental aspect of it. Knowing that he could, he was allowed to have his hands there. No one would beat him up or yell at him for this.

“Is that…” Daryl licked his lips. “Is this enough?”

Paul whispered, “Yes,”

And then it was over.

They separated, Paul, grinning at him and Daryl feeling uncertain. Not in a terrible way, but he didn’t know where to go from here.

“Daryl?” Michonne asked.

Daryl jumped and ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah?” he didn’t even bother asking what she wanted, he just followed her voice to the stairs, leaving Paul behind him. 

“He’s asking for you.”

Daryl nodded, his heart beating furiously as he took the stairs two at a time, walking into the room. Rick was still lying down, and judging from the way he was looking at Daryl, the fever was still affecting him. There was an open bottle of medication next to him.

“Hey man,” Daryl said, and that was all it took for Rick to cry.

Daryl walked over and sat on the chair, pulling it close to the bed, holding Rick’s hand. Sometime later, Michonne came in, while Rick came in and out of sleep, crying and not crying, saying names of the dead or saying nothing at all. She crawled into bed with him, pushing his hair out of his face, looking at Daryl solemnly.

When Rick slipped back under, Daryl looked at her. “When he’s better, we’re takin’ him out.”

Michonne looked at him sadly before she nodded. “We’ll make him help himself.”

They both stayed there, eventually falling asleep next to Rick, who was repeating his son's name in his sleep over and over again. 

Chapter Text

When Rick woke up, he was feeling remarkably better, but thought it was best not to move anyhow. His eyes fluttered open and to his great joy and utter relief was Daryl. He felt a body behind him, which he knew meant Michonne was behind him, and judging from her breathing she was asleep. Before he took it upon himself to be responsible and have a conversation, he leaned his body back, clutching Michonne’s arm tighter around his stomach.

He breathed out steady. Daryl in front of him, Michonne holding him. It had been a long time since he had woken up feeling safe.

Daryl was staring at him, his blue eyes piercing through to Rick’s soul. “Mornin’,” he moved his chair closer, leaning forward.

Rick tried to smile but his muscles still felt like they ached. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. I’m sorry I’m not more for you, I’m sorry for everything. I have never, ever been enough for you. “Daryl—”

“You don’t gotta be sorry man,” Daryl sighed, shaking his head. “You were sick.” There it was, that unfailing trust and loyalty. The ‘Rick never did a damn thing wrong’ stare.

“I think I made myself get sick,” Rick whispered. They both knew that was true, and didn’t say anything of it. There was no need, they knew how to talk to each other even without words sometimes.

On the other hand, Rick could see in Daryl’s face that he wanted to say something. Daryl did not often hold his tongue around Rick, but if he was doing so now it was because he didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

So Rick did him the curtesy and asked, “What is it you want to say?”

Daryl sighed and shook his head, “Listen man, I’m not tryin’ to be a dick, and I know you’re hurtin’. But this can’t happen again.”

Rick wanted to close his eyes. “I know.”

“I’m goin’ out with Jesus today, try and see if we can do some trackin’. After that, we’re all gonna go home, and you and I are going to go huntin’ together.”

Rick, in an effort to not feel like shit, or like he had brought any of them down, responded. “Since when do you give me orders?” he joked, but his smile did not feel real, and the pain on Daryl’s face made him think that maybe this wasn’t a time to fool around. “I’ll try,” he offered.

Daryl nodded. “Just you and me,” he promised. “You gotta get out man. You can’t stay like this, because if…” but he trailed off, not that it mattered. Rick knew exactly what Daryl wanted to say. If anything happened to Rick, Daryl wasn’t sure whether or not he would be okay afterwards. Rick had to be Rick as Daryl knew him to be, because they had been fighting together for so long, and fighting apart was not doing either of them any good.

Well, right now only Daryl was fighting. Rick hadn’t fought in a long time.

“You and me,” Rick murmured.

Daryl nodded. “You and me. I gotta go, Jesus is waiting.”

Rick closed his eyes, knowing he didn’t have it in him to watch Daryl leave. “Be safe.”

“Always am.”

 


 

Paul’s favorite thing to do was watch Daryl concentrate. He liked it so much because people often thought of Daryl as simply just the brawn of every situation, but Daryl was an extremely intelligent person.  Paul knew he liked to read, even though he didn’t read much, and that he preferred fact to fiction, and was more than good at observing the world around him.

They had found the car tires easily, Daryl was somehow able to separate the tire markings. Paul was astounded, completely floored that Daryl was able to know what car belonged to the RV, the car that Rick and Michonne taken and the car that the scout had taken.

“S’not hard,” Daryl explained as he chose their rout for them.

“So explain it to me then,” Paul said brightly, his arms swinging as he walked.

Daryl fixed his bow, rearranging himself so he could lean down and point to the tracks, Paul leaning with them. Smiling to himself, he snaked his hand down Daryl’s arm before their hands twined together. Daryl tensed considerably, but didn’t move away like Paul thought he would. They were taking liberties now, since their moment the night before, so Paul was taking advantage where he could.

“Tracks are fresher,” he cleared his throat, pressing their fingers into the dirt. “Feel it?”

Paul supposed that he did, so he nodded anyhow, but he was more invested in the way that Daryl’s fingers felt against his. That Daryl was actually teaching him something. That they were holding hands, because they could hold hands. This was something attainable now.

They got back up, and Daryl looked like he was going to pull away, but Paul held on. Daryl glanced at him from under his lashes. “You sure?”

“I don’t think it’s me who needs to be sure.”

Daryl bit the inside of his lip but said nothing, instead choosing to continue to walk with Paul. He wondered how much of this was tracking and how much of this was spending time together. Daryl had already informed Paul of his conversation with Rick, and although Paul had some lasting questions about that, he would decide to keep those for later.

Rick was not a threat, not in the traditional way. Mind, not in any way at all. It was just that Paul didn’t know how to handle Daryl’s unconfirmed feelings for Rick. Paul was fairly good at noticing who loved who, and from the moment they had all met, Paul knew that there was something between Rick and Daryl. Or at least, something one sided.

Paul itched to ask. He also wanted to know if he could live up to Rick Grimes. Rick freaking Grimes. That was the scariest part of all. He and Rick were not at all alike, but then again, Paul knew Daryl and Maggie better than he had ever bothered to know Rick.

“Are we allowed to talk?” Paul asked, almost as a joke.

Daryl nodded. “Sure,”

“You look like you want to disagree with me.”

“You always think I wanna disagree with you.”

“I’m usually right,” he swung their hands, looking at Daryl with a grand smile, happy to see that even though Daryl rolled his eyes he was smirking. “So, come on, tell me about yourself!” because as much as they liked each other, really, they didn’t know much.  Paul knew snippets and Daryl only knew whatever it was Paul gave away from himself.

“Ain’t much to tell,” Daryl mumbled, glancing down at their hands.

Paul frowned. “Daryl, if this bothers you…”

“No,” Daryl said, though he sounded very uncertain. “I ain’t just…you know, good at this.”

“That’s okay, you don’t need to be good at it. I’m good enough for the both of us.”

“Damn humble too,” Daryl held up his hand when he heard a rustle. Paul stopped with him, and they both let go of each other hands, Daryl readying his bow, and Paul his knife.

Paul stepped side by side with Daryl, moving carefully with him. Apparently the talking would have to come much later. Daryl moved away from the rustling, but towards the continuation of the tracks, where they started to skid off—the road deeper into the forest. Paul wasn’t sure how this was moving further from disaster, since they had moved away from a couple of trees to an entire forest. But the rustle, paired with the tracks seemed to lead him into something better. He bent and snapped his fingers to Paul, who bent with him, seeing blood.

That’s when they heard the groan.

Or, no, it sounded like whispering.

There, go, quicker, sh.

Whispers.

Paul’s head snapped around, and there were a couple of them, five or six coming towards them. Paul frowned, thinking to himself, those walkers move a lot more quietly. How did they sneak up on us? He patted Daryl on the shoulder and made him look, and immediately, Daryl got himself ready for battle. Paul thought they should run, because these walkers were moving fast but Daryl was never someone who decided to back down from a fight.

So he readied his bow, and without thinking got one straight through the head. Then before he could manage to get his head on straight, the walkers charged at them. They got some weapons out of nowhere, knives coming out from pockets Paul hadn’t seen, and before he could process too much, all he saw was that someone was going to Daryl, who hadn’t reloaded his crossbow yet. Before he could process a thing, Paul jumped.

Daryl swore at the same time that Paul yelled out in pain, feeling the knife go into his arm—thankfully, Daryl had done his best to move them out of the way at the same time, so it was a flesh wound more than it was anything serious. Paul felt himself get thrust to the ground, Daryl grunting as he tackled the walker—human?—whatever it was, and beating the knife out of him before stabbing him. Paul looked away and grabbed the crossbow that had clattered to the ground, getting another one in the chest, before he whipped out his gun and Daryl did the same. Within seconds, the upcoming threats were down and out, Daryl walked over to the one he had purposely shot in the leg and beat the thing until it was passed out cold.

Paul grimaced as he got up, covering his wound with his hand, feeling the blood stain his fingers. Daryl’s eyes shot back to Paul and he walked up to him, Paul ready for the yelling he was surely going to get.

Except Daryl didn’t do any such thing. He ripped off a piece of his shirt of the bottom with his knife, wrapping it around Paul’s wound tightening it quickly, and quietly. His eyes were very set, very hard, and then Paul realized with a pang of sadness, that Daryl’s hands were shaking.

“Hey,” Paul said, putting his hand on Daryl’s. “I’m okay. It’s nothing.”

Daryl looked at him seriously. “S’not nothin’,” he murmured. “When are you gonna stop putting yourself in danger?”

“It was me or you big guy,” Paul shrugged. “I chose me.”

“That ain’t fair.” Daryl snapped, anger finally flaring. “Fuckin’ tired of people ready to just…Rick is passed out half delusional and now I have you takin’ fuckin’ bullets for me.”

“It was a knife—”

“Jesus, Paul!”

“Well which am I?” Paul asked seriously. “Jesus? Or Paul?”

Daryl stared at him hard, while Paul waited for an answer impatiently. He stared into Daryl’s deep blue eyes, refusing to look anywhere else. Daryl stared back at him, not one to look away during a staring contest. This was it, this was the moment he was waiting for. They could talk, of course, they would talk, but Paul was putting himself on the line over and over again, emotionally and physically, and he had to know, had to have Daryl make a decision.

“Paul,” Daryl murmured. The word sat deep within him, because this is what he wanted. He wanted to be Jesus to everyone, but he wanted to be Paul to Daryl. He wanted to be more to Daryl.

Paul put his heart out on the line one more time. “I really want to kiss you.”

Daryl looked like he had just been asked to jump off a cliff. “Later,” he promised, and he looked surprised that he had even said the words. “First, we gotta…” he cleared his throat, throwing a hand towards the passed out, left alive walker—human. Paul nodded, because it was true, they should deal with the bodies around them before they dealt with their love life.

It was just that Paul understood that Daryl did not know how to ask for anything he wanted, so Paul had figured out the best ways to give it to him.

Daryl told Paul to keep back, not wanting to push his injured arm, and eventually got the person to a tree, the injury Daryl had inflicted upon them deep and painful enough that even when this person would wake up, they would not be able to move or run or fight. Carefully, Daryl observed them while Paul stood at his back, his arm throbbing. It could be worse, but now that he wasn’t focusing on the fight or on Daryl, he was more aware of the pain.

“It’s a person,” Daryl said obviously. “But covered in fuckin’ walker skin.” He added disgustingly.

“Makes for a good disguise I guess,” Paul mumbled. Then he bent towards them, pointing at another knife that was by his hip. He recognized it from the blue handle with notches dented in it. “That belonged to Jimmy.” When Daryl looked at him in confusion, Paul clarified, “The scout who was supposed to make it to Rick.”

Daryl’s eyes narrowed, and he had officially lost his patience. That was all it took, because at the end of it all Rick was what mattered the most. Paul tried not to let that bother him, but he supposed that he would have about ask about that too.

Later.

“Hey,” Daryl snapped, slapping the person awake. The moment that they did, Daryl took Jimmy’s previous knife and growled, “Where you from?”

“Like I’ll tell you,”

Daryl shrugged, grabbing the knife and stabbing the person in the leg. The yell chilled Paul to the bone, and although it was not the way Paul would have done things, he knew that when it came to Rick Grimes, a lot of Daryl’s rationality tended to go out the window. “Try again,” Daryl told the person.

“Camps,” the person muttered. “Just camps scattered around.”

“Where’s yours?” Daryl snarled.

The person chuckled, pain and delusion making its way into them. Not that it mattered, Paul didn’t think that they were going to be leaving this person alive anyhow.

“Just a mile west from your nice home,” he laughed again. “I’ve seen you, behind your white fences. The man who walks around and mutters, sees ghosts? We’re coming, we’re coming, we—” but the person didn’t have a chance to say anything more, because Daryl had stuck the blade between their eyes.

“Jesus,” Paul moved his hand to his stomach.

Daryl didn’t acknowledge it. “Let’s go,”

 


 

 

“The Whisperers?” Michonne asked skeptically.

Paul shrugged. “Well I don’t know whether they call themselves that, but they need a name so that’s it now.” Paul was annoyed. Not only was he still aching some from his arm, but he was testy since these new people had completely ruined what was supposed to be a calm day.

As it happens, they were also whispering. They were in Rick’s room, who was asleep once more, and they were all standing around the end of the bed, trying to come up with a plan. When they had arrived they had each gotten cleaned up before coming to tell the girls what they had found out. Paul was looking at Daryl, who was looking at Maggie, who had her hand twined with Michonne’s.

With her free hand, Maggie ran her thumb over her bottom lip. “Alexandria needs more protection than here right now. That Whisperer was very specific.”

Daryl nodded. “Maybe, but the baby—”

Michonne shook her head. “I can stay.”

Maggie smiled lightly, “Rick needs you. Separation is what got him here, I’m not sure how more separation would help.”

Paul crossed his arms. “So what do we do then?”

Daryl was still looking at Maggie, because everything in his life seemed to revolve around the same three things—keeping Rick Grimes alive, keeping Maggie Greene safe, and making Paul go wild with desire. “We take Rick back to Alexandria, then leave to go get Carol and Ezekiel.”

Michonne nodded. “They can come protect Alexandria, help us out. When you go to the camp, you can go with Rosita and Tara.”

“No,” Rick’s voice broke across the room, groggy but very awake, almost stern. A little more like the Rick that Paul had first met. “No,”

Michonne immediately went over to the bed when she saw that he was moving. Paul watched Daryl who stood very still, but his eyes moved all over Rick. Paul had to remember that Daryl believed he existed to keep the people he loved safe, and had to remind himself that there was no need for jealousy. There were different kinds of love, and relationships.

But Paul was insecure too, sometimes, especially with people like Daryl who didn’t exactly speak their mind. Paul would ask. Later.

Rick smiled softly at Michonne. “If they’re after Alexandria, that’s where they’ll go first. There is no reason to drag in the Kingdom. We’ll go home, switch out Paul for Aaron, and Father Gabriel.”

Paul raised his eyebrow. “What makes you think I’m coming with you?”

Rick looked at him carefully. “You’re going to make me say it?” he asked—and though they all knew exactly what it was that they were talking about, Paul didn’t want him to say it out loud, more for Daryl’s benefit than his own. Daryl was looking at Paul now, for the first time since they had entered the room, judging his reaction, or waiting for his words.

Rick nodded. “When we get back, the four of us will go. Rosita and Tara will come with us.”

Michonne looked uncertain. “That’s all our best fighters.”

Daryl shrugged. “’If we beat them to the punch, we win,” he nodded at Rick. “’When do we leave?”

“Tomorrow,” Rick murmured, falling back on the bed. “Just one more day of rest.”

Daryl nodded, and then Paul got whiplash as Daryl’s eyes darted all over the face, his lip twitching, his hands curling into fists, before he moved up to Paul and jerked his head. Paul opened his mouth to speak, but Maggie gave him a small push and he followed Daryl outside of the room.

“What—”

“Your arm okay?” Daryl asked, his hand moving over Paul’s bare arm. He had switched to a t-shirt, and the skin on skin contact drove him insanely wild. Daryl was looking at it like this cut was the most important thing in the world to him. Paul sighed and put his hand over Daryl’s, feeling Daryl twitch from under him.

“Yeah,” he smiled tenderly.

“Wanna go back to your trailer?” Daryl asked, his eyes darting from the wound to Paul, and then after he blushed he looked back down.

“Okay,” Paul said, a little breathlessly. Just like that, the hands dropped, and whatever spell had been over Paul lifted. He felt drunk. Daryl felt unreal.

This was the apocalypse, for God’s sake. But he couldn’t stay away.

Daryl followed Paul to his trailer quietly, and for the moment Paul didn’t know how to fill it. His head was buzzing with possibilities—of a new threat, a new purpose, and fear. Fear because he did not want to have kill people all over again. He was tired of the blood that was on his hands. For a guy named Jesus, he sure had killed a lot.

Possibilities of Daryl. What it could mean, what he could have.

“Your ankle is more than better,” Paul said lightly. Daryl shut the door behind him.

He nodded. “Told you from day one that it was fine.” He went over to the bed and let out a grunt as he fell over it, pressing his hands to his eyes. “Fuckin’ exhausted.”

Paul felt like a stranger in his own home. He stood there, completely anxious.  Daryl was in his bed and he didn’t have to be—in this trailer, in this bed. Paul had dreamed of moments like these a million times, but now that such a moment had arrived, after what they had promised to each other before in the woods, he felt like he couldn’t exist in this space. In this world.

He wanted so much, from a man who was so afraid to give it.  

Paul swallowed.

Daryl looked at him. “Why’re you just standin’ there like—”

“Do you love Rick?” the words had fallen from him so quickly. He hadn’t meant to ask it so suddenly. He had meant to ask something like how come you moved on, or when did you stop? He thought it came out so accusingly, but thankfully, Daryl didn’t look like he was offended.

He did look a little fearful however. He tensed in the familiar way that he so often did, and sat up, rubbing his hands on his legs. Paul could see it in his eyes—the battle, the struggle to admit it or deny it.

“Rick’s my brother,” Daryl said carefully.

“That’s not what I mean.”

Daryl shrugged. “Used to,” he admitted quietly.

Paul felt himself relaxed, took a step forward. “Used to. And now?”

“Now there’s this real annoyin’ tick that keeps botherin’ me…”

“Oh, ha-ha,” Paul grinned. He didn’t have to ask about all of it now, he could ask later, maybe tonight, under the cover of darkness where Daryl might feel braver about his sexuality, his past in general. One step at a time.

Except they couldn’t afford to go too slowly, because all of a sudden, once again, they had a fight on their hands.

Daryl stared at him walking over. Paul didn’t know how he looked, but he knew he was grinning, trying to make the tone was light. Daryl looked like he was frozen on the spot, his hands digging into his legs. The setting sun showing itself through the windows, creating landscapes all over Daryl’s face and body.

“You’re so beautiful,” Paul said softly, standing between his legs.

Daryl snorted. “I ain’t,”

“You are,” Paul leaned down, laughing softly as their noses brushed. He grabbed Daryl’s hands and lifted them, putting them on his hips. Daryl’s hands felt limp, so Paul squeezed them and felt his strong fingers dig into his hips. Taking liberties, he brought his hand up and ran it through Daryl’s hair, his blood igniting when he saw Daryl’s eyes flutter shut, letting his guard down for just a moment. “There we go,” Paul whispered.

Daryl opened his mouth, whispering, “I don’t know…” he trailed off, his eyes opening slowly as he stared up at Paul. “I don’t know how to do this. Who to be.”

“Yourself, always,”

“Paul,”

“Daryl,”

“M’bein’ serious.”

“So am I,” Paul said, his hand coming down from Daryl’s hair to scrape along his face, his nails trailing paths over Daryl’s face, before putting a thumb on Daryl’s thumb. “We’re not going to do anything tonight, nothing besides kissing and talking. I just want you Daryl, you as a person, not your body.” He fixed himself so that he was straddling Daryl, who breathed in from the contact of their bodies flushed together this way. Daryl looked like he didn’t know where to put his hands, or his face, or rather that he didn’t even believe he was sitting on this bed.

Daryl stumbled over his words, “Jes—Paul, I…”

“I can move,” Paul offered, stringing his hands around Daryl’s hands. “I want to kiss you, but if you don’t want that, tell me now.”

Daryl swallowed. “I…” he breathed, and then, something seemed to settle in his eyes, and his strong, big hands, came up to Paul’s face, framing him and bringing him down for a kiss.

Paul felt himself ignite.

Daryl’s lips were uncertain, chapped but kind as they tested the waters with Paul. They were a little rough, thanks to Daryl’s anxiety, but after some of Paul’s coaxing, and setting the pace with his own mouth, they got into a steady rhythm of kissing. There was no tongue, which Paul thought they were both glad for seeing as they were kissing very tentatively. Paul was controlling the kiss best he could, but before he knew it, he became drunk on Daryl’s unexperienced kissing. What he lacked for in technique he made up for with his touches, the way his hands were caressing Paul’s face, running over his arms. The noises he made were soft, pleasant, little gasps of pleasure as though he couldn’t believe he was on the receiving end of this.

Paul wanted to devour him.

He pulled away because his hips were twitching, and he was trying not to push down on Daryl’s hips.

It had been a long time.

He pulled back, their foreheads resting on each other, Daryl with his eyes closed, but Paul couldn’t stop looking at him. When he tried to pull back more, to get an even better look at those now swollen lips, Daryl kept him in place.

“Wait,” Daryl breathed. “I just…one sec…”

Paul smiled and kissed Daryl’s skin, wherever he could reach—a peck on the lips, his cheeks, his eyes, his nose. Daryl grunted under that one, apparently the level of cuteness just too much for him to handle that he had to make a manly noise to make himself feel better.

The kiss confirmed what Paul already knew.

I am falling so hard for you.

Daryl pulled back now, his eyes shining, his lips looking absolutely delicious. “Do you wanna,” his arms wrapped around Paul’s waist, and Paul laughed. Daryl smiled. Everything felt so good, for once. “Lie down? We can talk.”

Paul nodded. “Let’s talk.” 

Chapter Text

Daryl felt warm.

He ran hot as it was, but he felt warm. There was, he thought, a very important difference between the two sensations. One was a product of his own body and the other was because of Paul.

Paul’s kiss lingered on his lips—Paul’s fingers were running marathons over Daryl’s arm. The two had climbed inside of Daryl and settled there, making him feel wanted, and for far more than just his body.

The sun was still in the process of setting, casting soft orange and yellow lights over Paul. It created a landscape over Paul’s visage that Daryl couldn’t get enough of. He could not remember ever thinking about someone this way, looking so beautiful. A beautiful that transcended anything physical. This was all about the inside of them. The inside was all Daryl had ever bothered with.

Paul’s hair was tucked behind his ears, his adorable ears, and so just because he could, Daryl leaned in and kissed Paul’s ear.

Paul chuckled. “You kissed my ear!”

“You’re real good at pointin’ out the obvious,” He pulled back, tugging Paul closer to him. “I like your ears.”

“I like your arms,” Paul told him, and he scraped his nails along Daryl’s arms, making him shiver. “I gave you goosebumps.”

“S’not all you give me.” Daryl murmured softly—smiling tenderly when Paul’s face softened. Paul’s eyes were sparkling, or maybe Daryl was imagining it. He wasn’t sure he cared either way.

“You,” Paul said quietly. “Are a lot softer than you let people think you are.”

“I ain’t soft,”

“You are,” Paul disagreed. “As long as I’ve known you, all you’ve ever wanted to do, it seems, to be with the ones you love—to give them everything. You chased me around a field—”

“You gotta let that go,”

“But you also took care of me.” Paul smiled. “You had no reason to, but you did, and I knew I could trust you.”

Daryl who never knew how to take a compliment, tried to joke, but his voice was quiet. “You think I love you?”

Paul grinned. “Angel, I think if you’re not already, you will be.”

Daryl couldn’t necessarily disagree. “Angel?” he asked.

“It fits,” Paul whispered, moving forward. His hand swept down between Daryl’s shoulder blades as he did. “Your wings,” he whispered against his lips. “Would be right there.” He dipped his finger against the shirt, pressing so Daryl could feel it against his skin.

Daryl touched his bottom lip with his tongue. “Kiss me.” He begged, and for the first time in his life, Daryl didn’t care that he was begging for something, or someone.

“Greedy,” Paul teased, but kissed him anyway.

Daryl welcomed it eagerly, feeling a little more confident with what to do with his mouth. Daryl left his mouth a little open so Paul could do with it as he pleased, and as he suspected, Paul took advantage of it. Their tongues touched, and the feeling of it made Daryl move closer, and Paul opened his mouth to deepen the kiss. Daryl felt overwhelmed, not quite knowing what to do or how to do it, but Paul didn’t seem to have an issue. So Daryl just kissed him, kissed him and held him and thanked the universe that even though he had ended up in this shithole of a world, he at least had this and this was something good.

When Daryl gripped him a touch too tightly, and Paul pressed his hips forward a bit too excitedly, Paul pushed back on his own and breathed out, “Down boy,” Paul’s eyes fluttered open. “Talk. You. Me. We need to talk.”

Daryl’s lips were on fire—his heart was beating furiously. “About what?”

“For starters?” Paul asked, a hint of uncertainty in those intense, unreal, gorgeous, blue eyes. “Rick,”

Daryl sighed. “Why’re you so set on Rick?”

“Because I know he means a lot to you.”

“It ain’t a competition,” Daryl mumbled. “I don’t—I mean, I did, but I don’t.”

Interrupting Daryl, Paul touched his bottom hip, his eyes strange as he began his own tale. “I had a couple of relationships but I was only in love once. His name was Alex. It wasn’t a terribly healthy relationship, he was kind of manipulative—”

Anger roared in Daryl. “Were you hurt?” The very idea of someone using Paul to their own gain in any shape or form made Daryl want to start a fight.

“I’m okay Daryl—”

“Ain’t what I asked.”

“I was hurt,” Paul said softly. “In case you weren’t able to tell from my winning personality—” Daryl snorted, and Paul pretended like he didn’t. “I always feel like I have to bring the good energy with me wherever I go. Perks of having grown up in a group home. He kind of made me feel like shit about it I guess…my home, my family, how I acted. Then he was sweet and said everything I wanted to hear so I’d sleep with him.”

Daryl tightened his hold. “Guy sounds like a prick.”

“He was. I broke up with him, then had some flings here and there, but never anything serious because I felt like no one wanted the real me. Until you.”

Daryl felt that warmth again. “Why me?”

“Because you saw me,” Paul responded. “You never wanted me to be anyone else. I’m not afraid to be myself.” He tapped Daryl’s chest. “There, you know about my ex’s. Now you tell me about yours.”

Daryl didn’t like talking about his sexual escapades, even less so about his romantic ones. His sexuality had always been a terrible thing for him to deal with. It was something that he had learned to be ashamed of, and ironically only became slightly more comfortable with it once the apocalypse hit.

Strange, how sometimes this world was a blessing in disguise. He had more of a family now, than he ever did before.

“Fucked a prostitute once,” Daryl recalled. “Birthday present from my brother. Fucked a guy in an alley, to see what I liked. Never had a relationship cause of my brother, and my parents…and me…” he shrugged. “That’s it.”

“And Rick,”

Daryl’s face heated. “We didn’t do that.”

“But you loved him.”

Daryl instinctively wanted to argue—only because it was something he had been arguing against since he had first met Rick. But Paul knew better, and he had already admitted it. Besides if this relationship was going to mean anything, he knew that he would have to be honest.

It’s just that, what he felt for Rick was something different. It was once romantic, and although it wasn’t romantic anymore, it was the same. The intensity of it. The fact that Daryl, without a thought, would go to war if Rick asked. Rick was a brother, a best friend, a soul mate in every possible way. After meeting Paul, Daryl had wondered if it was possible to love more than one person in this life.

He was thinking he was right.

“Rick is the only guy I ever loved,” he admitted, and that truth was a hard thing to admit. “Still do, just differently now. First time I saw him, was fuckin’, I don’t know…was like gettin’ a heart attack.”

“Get that a lot, do you?”

Daryl rolled his eyes, but instead of pinching Paul’s side, he kissed his nose. He couldn’t stop touching him. “Chose him over and over again, didn’t matter that he didn’t want me back. Only mattered that I had his back.”

Paul frowned. “Rick loves you.”

“I know.”

“Does it make you sad? That you and he never got together?”

“Used to, but I dunno. M’here now, think that matters more.”

“You old romantic.”

“Love him properly now. How I’m supposed to.”

“When did it stop, or change?”

Daryl would never forget that day. Once again, he had been ready to die for Rick, Carl and Michonne without a second thought. He always had been. Except, that day when Joe and his crew had found them, and he had saw Rick kneeling on the ground a gun at his head, he had never been more certain in his life that he was ready to die.

Because in that moment, all he had seen was Rick. The idea of losing him was something he knew that he never wanted to experience or deal with. Especially since he had just got him back after being separated from the prison. He had lost Beth. Lost everything. Losing Rick was not an option.

Daryl told him that story, reliving the pain, remembering the hell that they had been through. He would also, never forget that Rick had said ‘you’re my brother’ at the same time that Daryl wanted to say ‘I love you’. From that moment, though Daryl did not stray far from Rick, he decided that he would force his feelings to change.

Luckily, Daryl had found someone else to shift his feelings towards.

Daryl retold the story to Paul, looking at his reaction the entire time. How Paul’s eyes hardened when Daryl spoke about the group, the sadness in them when he told Paul how willing he was to die for Rick. The moment Rick had shattered his hopes. Except he had never meant to do it, he had never meant to let Daryl down.

“I’m sorry,” Paul said, his hand running through Daryl’s hair.

“Like when you do that,” he mumbled.

Paul smiled softly. “Is it bad that I’m kind of glad you two never got together?”

“Nah, get what you mean. Think I’m happy too.”

“You think?”

“Still decidin’,” Daryl chuckled.

“So…I’m your first boyfriend.” Paul laughed when Daryl rolled his eyes again, trying not to grin. “I’m honoured.”

“M’just bored.”

“You little,” Paul laughed, flicking Daryl’s forehead, and his laugh spiraled when Daryl tucked him close, his hands moving to under Paul’s arms, tickling him. Daryl had never been the tickling kind of guy, but Paul, here under the now set sun made him feel so good and happy.

Didn’t Daryl deserve to be happy? Wasn’t it okay for him to not be so…moody, for once? Something good at happened, in the face of all his badness. He didn’t want to feel bad about it.

Somehow, their lips stumbled onto each other again, Daryl feeling a little lightheaded that he even pulled Paul over him, pushing his hips up while pushing Paul’s down.

He had really, never wanted someone before. He had loved Rick, and of course Rick was handsome, but it had been always about emotions. Paul was…everything. Daryl never liked to be touched, never thought he would be in bed with someone, having fun, being so easy going with someone. Paul was more than just emotions, Daryl wanted to know him physically, emotionally, and mentally. Everything. Everything.

However, it was too soon. So before they both went too far, Daryl parted their lips and put Paul back on his side.

“Talkin’,” Daryl reminded him.

Paul’s eyes looked as dazed as Daryl felt. “Right, sure,” he laughed. “I have to admit, part of me doesn’t believe…this. I mean, you’re Daryl Dixon.”

Daryl didn’t have to ask what he meant. He couldn’t believe it himself. Never, never did he think he would have this. “Didn’t know I was ever allowed to have this.” He swallowed, remembering his conversation with Maggie. “My dad…he uh…saw me with a boy. Just kissed him. Decided to beat the gay out of me.”

Paul was up now. He was looking down at Daryl, his eyes hard, his mouth set in a firm line. Daryl sighed and got up—usually it was the other way around. It was always Daryl with those eyes, with that face. Always speaking roughly and never taking the time to be as he was now, carefree, even if it was because the night was making him brave and Paul made him feel drunk.

“S’fine,” Daryl whispered, his hand on Paul’s shoulder.

“It’s not fine,” Paul snapped. “Are you kidding me?”

Daryl swore under his breath, suddenly everything going back to the place he knew it should have been from the start. Of course nothing could stay good, nothing could ever remain happily—

“Daryl,” Paul said, his hands on the sides of his face. “I’m not mad at you, but no, it’s not fine.”

“I know, it’s just…I don’t want…” Daryl sighed, his hands covering Paul’s. “Maggie said your dad…”

Paul looked very sad. “I was in a group home because my dad was an abusive shit head who ended up in prison and my mother was long gone,” he chuckled, shaking his head. “My dad hit me once. Then I started taking martial arts classes and he never hit me again.”

Daryl mumble sadly, “Can’t say the same.”

“Was it just because—”

Daryl shook his head. “Beat us for whatever he wanted. Too loud, looked at him wrong. Mom didn’t do a thing, but Rick says that, that was worse.”

Paul nodded, understanding, and contemplating. Daryl sat there, waited. He didn’t ask for any more clarifications, Paul knew about Merle, who he had been and who he was, including that he had been racist, sexist and homophobic. Paul knew where Daryl came from, but now that the ugly truth was truly out in the open, words and all, Daryl could not help but feel as though he would be left in this bed alone.

“I get it,” Daryl treaded carefully. “If you don’t want me, now. I mean, I ain’t fuckin’ like, experienced and shit. I don’t…my back is all fucked up. I’ve been—”

“You’ve been hurt,” Paul said softly, his eyes tender and caring. “That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve happiness and love, Daryl.”

Making an attempt at humor, Daryl said, “You love me now?”

Completely seriously, Paul said, “I’m getting there.”

Daryl thought, that maybe, if it had been anyone else, all of this would have been too soon. Daryl thought that maybe he was acting so unlike himself that it was all some kind of strange dream.

Except was anything too soon in a world like this?

They had been chasing each other for months now, five, or six. Flirting since day one.

Since he was diving head first into this, without thinking too much about it anymore. “Me too,” he swallowed. “Is that…I ain’t too good with this…”

Paul shrugged. “You don’t have to be good at it. I think you and I are against conventions, even the gay ones. We’ll just…flow.”

“I don’t really flow.”

Paul laughed. “You’ll learn to flow.” He leaned forward again, kissing Daryl deeply, and they kissed each other for hours until it was late enough to go to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Once they made it back to Alexandria, Rick immediately went over to Tara and Rosita’s to get Judith, the others following. He didn’t speak to either of them, his eyes on her. He grabbed her from the floor, and she happily embraced him, exclaiming, “Papa!”

“Hey baby,” Rick breathed out. He inhaled her, he let the smell of his daughter overwhelm him. Paired with the comfort he got from her body he allowed himself to become aware of himself, of his existence. That is what he had to remember—that he was alive. He still had a child to live for.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered against her shoulder. “I’m sorry that I’ve been gone so long.” He meant it for the entirety of it—for losing himself, for checking out, for leaving.

Judith had clearly missed him, she held on to him, her head on her shoulder and her ever-growing hair tickling Rick’s neck. He turned around, they were all there. Michonne, Tara, Rosita, Paul, Daryl. They still wouldn’t leave him, after all this, all that had happened and all that he had put them through.

“I’m sorry,” he told them too. “I’m sorry that I’ve been gone so long.” They all understood, they knew he’d come back eventually. They had more faith in him than he ever had in himself.

Rosita asked, “Are you okay now?”

Rick thought that the word okay was terribly vague, but he thought that answering yes was the best thing to do. He doubted, in a lot of ways, that he would ever be okay anymore. He had lost his son. He may not be okay, but he could survive. He would survive, for these people, who had been counting on him for a long time. So as a response, he nodded once and said, “We have a job to do.”

Tara sighed. “All I ask is for one day of peace.”

Daryl nudged her. Rick explained it all, the people Daryl and Paul had found. The fact that they had a camp, and most importantly, that they were coming for Alexandria. As he recited his plan, Rosita put up her hand to stop him.

“What if we don’t attack?” she asked seriously. “We’re behind walls, they’re just in a camp. We’ll see them coming. Why go out there when we’re safe here?”

Rick hadn’t thought of that, he had just wanted to rid himself of the problem before it came to them. It was true though, they had walls, and the other ones had camps. They already had the higher ground, whether these people had guns or not.

Tara grinned. “Never knew you to say no to a fight.”

“I’m not saying no to a fight, I’m saying no to giving them the upper hand.”

Rick nodded. “So we wait?”

Daryl shrugged. “Could put extra guards,” he suggested.

“Alright,” his eyes shifted to Daryl. They hadn’t really spoken the way Rick had hoped. They weren’t fighting, but Rick felt as though there were things they needed to get out into the open. “Can we talk?” Rick asked. Daryl nodded before Rick was even done with his sentence. He was always so willing, so ready to do whatever Rick asked.

Michonne walked over to Judith and grabbed her, kissing Rick briefly. He sighed into it—he felt that too. She was his home. “I’ll go see Aaron and Gracie.”

Rosita took Tara’s hand. “We’ll go tell Father Gabriel to get ready.”

Paul looked to Daryl, leaning on his toes lightly, “I’ll meet you at the house.” And he planted a kiss on Daryl’s cheek.

No one moved.

Paul’s mouth was stuck with a grin but his eyes screamed terror. Daryl was rooted to the spot. Tara was not bothering to hide her grin.

Of course, they all knew that it was coming. Daryl wasn’t as subtle as he thought he was. But he appreciated his privacy too and liked to say things on his own terms and no one else’s. Rick couldn’t help it either, the spread of warmth in his chest. To watch Daryl’s eyes soften under the weight of Paul’s lips. To know that even though he wasn’t smiling, that he was happy.

No one deserved it more than him.

Daryl glared at Paul, “Idiot,”

Relieved, Paul sighed, “See you after?”

Daryl nodded, shooting Tara a reproachful look when she and Paul high fived. As they filed out, the silence stretched, the two men walking towards the living room.

“So, you and Jesus, huh?” Rick asked.

Daryl didn’t stiffen—he might have with anyone else. He shrugged as though it meant nothing, but Rick knew Daryl well enough to know that Jesus meant everything. “Ain’t so bad when he ain’t talkin’.”

“You’re such a bad liar,” Rick grinned.

Daryl, distracted for a moment murmured, “Haven’t seen you smile in a while.” Like always, every time Daryl offered honesty, it astounded Rick. “What’d you wanna talk about?”

“About you and Jesus, actually. Or you and me, rather.”

“What’d you—”

“I’m sorry,” Rick interrupted him. Daryl looked like he was ready to say something but Rick shook his head, and continued speaking, wanting to be sure that he said everything that had been building inside him for so long. “I’m sorry for everything.”

“Rick, man—”

“No, Daryl, no.” Rick shook his head, letting out a long, tired sigh. “You know…you and Jesus, ain’t a surprise. I figured it out, too late, but I figured it out.”

Daryl shifted in his seat, “What’d you mean?”

“That day, with Joe and them—”

“Rick,” Daryl did look afraid now. “You don’t gotta—”

“I do because you have to know.” Rick swallowed the lump in his throat. He wasn’t sure if maybe he shouldn’t say it at all, if maybe he should just let everything be, but he wanted Daryl to know. He wanted very badly for Daryl to understand. “When I called you my brother, I saw…”

“Rick, I’m okay.”

“I know you are. It’s just…Daryl, I want you to know that I…I wanted it to work. I didn’t know…I thought if I tried hard enough, I’d feel what you felt.”

Daryl shook his head, and said quietly, “I don’t want that from you now.”

“I know,” Rick smiled softly. “I know, and Jesus, you have no idea how happy I am that you’re together. I’m just sorry, that I wasn’t enough for you. Ever. I fucking led you into so much shit—”

“Coulda said no, man,” Daryl smiled softly at him. “Chose not to. Wasn’t just you. I chose you. Still do, just because I’m with someone, don’t mean I ain’t your right hand.”

Rick smiled, and Daryl smiled, and this conversation was more than enough for the two of them. It was good, and understanding—there was no more pain. Daryl wasn’t hurting over Rick, he wasn’t pining, and Rick didn’t have to feel bad about it anymore. They had both ended up with the people they were supposed to be with, while still keeping the other close.

In another world, they would have been meant for each other. In a way, they still were, just not in the way Daryl was meant for Paul, or Rick for Michonne. It was different, and different was okay, because they knew what they were to each other even if no one else did.

“We’ll go hunting later,” Daryl held out his fist, leaning forward, waiting.

Rick met him there, their knuckles bumping. “Yeah,”

 


 

Paul was sitting outside, his legs stretched out in front of him. He had tied up his hair, rolled up his sleeves and unbuttoned the first couple buttons of his shirt, feeling the warm sun all over him. Soon, winter would be here, and although it would not be severe as it would be anywhere north of where they were, the sun still would not be this strong. Paul loved the sun.

His moment of peace was interrupted when he felt someone flick the back of his head. He opened one eye and watched Daryl come over, sit on the ground in front of him, leaning back on his hands and crossing one ankle over the other.

“What did Rick want?” Paul asked, and before he could stop himself, he slipped down and straddled Daryl. He couldn’t help it, he couldn’t not touch him, now that he had the liberty to do so. Before he let Daryl answer, he kissed him swiftly on the lips, pressing their chests together.

Daryl pulled back and stared at Paul, his eyes twinkling. Paul ran both his hands through Daryl’s hair, pushing it away from his face. “Just to talk to me, about you.”

“Sorry about that,” Paul laughed. “I forgot that you weren’t out.”

“They all fuckin’ know anyway,” Daryl mumbled. “Makes no difference.”

“I’m honestly surprised I haven’t gotten the big talk from any of them about hurting you.”

“Cause they know I could kick your ass if you did,” Daryl told him. “Also, cause they know you won’t.”

Paul smiled down at him. “When did you start putting your faith in me, Daryl Dixon?”

“Day I met you.”

“Liar,”

Daryl laughed softly, pulling Paul down by tugging his hair, their lips colliding. They were a mess of it, kisses and touches, Daryl wrapping his arms around Paul, and Paul laughing as every so often Daryl’s lips went to Paul’s neck to bite down on the skin there.

“Hey,” Daryl winced. “Wait, shit, my back.”

“God, mood killer much?” Paul chuckled, climbing off. “What an old man thing to say.”

“I ain’t old,” Daryl grumbled. “I’m sore.”

“Pulling your back makes you old.”

“Didn’t pull shit,” Daryl raised his eyebrows as Paul moved, gliding behind him, pressing his hands against Daryl’s back. Paul felt the hard shoulders that he loved to grasp, before he moved down between the shoulder blades. His hands stopped moving altogether when he felt Daryl tense. Not in the way he did when they got excited, but the way he did when he was afraid.

“Is this…” Paul asked quietly. “Is this not okay?” Daryl looked down, chewing the inside of his lip, not answering. Paul moved to the side and lifted Daryl’s chin so their eyes could meet. “Hey,” he whispered. “What’s going on?”

Daryl’s blue eyes were hard, like they were somewhere else. “My back, it ain’t…when it’s humid, my back hurts. Got scars, and they never really healed nice. So the weather makes it ache.”

Paul heard everything Daryl didn’t say between the lines. “From your dad?”

Daryl flinched lightly. Paul felt him tremble. “Yeah. Ain’t pretty.”

“You’re beautiful,” Paul said, a knee-jerk reaction.

Daryl rolled his eyes. “M’bein’ serious, you ain’t gonna want—”

“You know,” Paul interrupted him, all joking aside. “You have to stop assuming that just because you have a couple scars it makes you any less amazing.”

“Ain’t a couple scars, Paul.” Daryl said quietly.

“I’m not changing my mind.” Paul stressed. “You don’t have to show me, but if you do, it won’t change anything.”

Daryl looked at him, searching for something in his eyes. Paul didn’t know what he was looking for, but he made sure to keep his face controlled, his eyes steady. He wanted Daryl to trust him with this. Though Paul had no physical scars to bear, because he had made sure never to be touched by someone else in a hurtful way again, he knew what it was like to have scars on the inside. He knew what it meant to be abused.

“You gonna put those hands to use then?” Daryl asked.

Paul smiled softly. “My hands are extremely talented.”

Daryl rolled his eyes, taking off his shirt in one fluid motion, his eyes not meeting Paul’s. “No need to make everythin’ dirty,” he mumbled, setting his shirt under him.

“For once I wasn’t being dirty, but I’m glad your mind went there on its own,” he said, trying to steady his quickly beating heart as Daryl lay on his stomach, setting his face on his folded hands. Paul’s hand reached out, forcing his fingers to stop shaking as he pressed them against one of Daryl’s scars. It started at his shoulder blade and spread up to his shoulder. Paul felt a slow building anger inside of him as his eyes dragged themselves over each scar that spread itself over Daryl’s back, making jagged edges against his skin. There was a tattoo there, but Paul couldn’t focus on it.

“Daryl,” Paul blinked, and a tear dropped. He hadn’t realized he was crying. He couldn’t believe he was crying.

Daryl didn’t pick himself up, but he twitched when he felt Paul’s tear on his lower back. “M’fine,”

Paul shook his head, but after a moment when he realized that Daryl couldn’t see him, he leaned down and pressed his lips against one of the scars, pressing down hard with his lips. He did the same to each other scar, Daryl not as tense as he was before.

“There,” Paul’s breath ghosted along Daryl’s skin, making him grin as Daryl shuddered. “Something good, over something bad.” He was not naïve enough to assume that his kisses would make any of this go away, but he hoped that with enough of them, Daryl wouldn’t be afraid to take off his shirt anymore.

Paul didn’t want him to be afraid.

Slowly, he kneaded his fingers and knuckles into Daryl’s back, smoothing out the knots and aches that he was getting from the weather. He wasn’t too sure whether it would really help at all, but at least he could offer some comfort in this. Slowly, Daryl undid himself, coming apart under Paul’s touches. Paul was glad for that, that he could give Daryl this. He didn’t know how long they were there for, not talking, just Paul listening to Daryl’s breath and working on moving his hands, and Daryl underneath him.

When Daryl’s hips shifted for the third time, Paul stopped moving. “Am I hurting you?” he asked.

Daryl mumbled into his skin, “Manner of speakin’,”

Paul got off him, quirking his brow. “I don’t—oh,” he grinned, when Daryl looked at him, his face red. When Daryl didn’t make an effort to move, Paul laughed. “Are you hard?” he exclaimed, Daryl finally moving, his hand smacking over Paul’s mouth.

“Say it louder, asshole!” Daryl hissed under his breath, on his knees now. “Don’t think the entire fuckin’ town heard you.”

Paul took Daryl’s hand away. “I told you my hands were good.”

“Don’t be a shithead.” Daryl told him.

“Well put it away, because I don’t sleep with someone until they’ve at least taken me to dinner.”

Daryl snorted. “Think that the opportunity for that is kinda low, don’t you?”

“You can make me food, dummy.” Paul kissed him softly. “Can I ask you something?”

“No,” Daryl squirmed, pressing down on his groin with the heel of his hand, rearranging himself on the grass.

Paul ignored him. “Are you clean? I mean, like, you know…” he pointed to Daryl’s groin.

“Oh, yeah,” he mumbled. “Only had the two, like I told you. Got checked and never really wanted anythin’ again…”

“So you and your hand had a happy relationship.”

“Don’t be gross.”

“It’s a perfectly healthy thing to do Daryl.”

“Why’re you askin’?”

“Oh,” Paul felt the heat on his cheeks this time. “Just, you know, so am I. I mean, I got checked about a month before the world went to shit. You know, had checkups with the doc just in case at Hilltop. So I’m good too.”

“Okay,”

Paul sighed, rolling his eyes. “I’m saying that sex feels better without a condom, and since we’re both clean we don’t have to worry about like, fucking in the woods or whatever.”

Daryl snorted. “I ain’t fuckin’ you in the woods. Ain’t an animal. And we ain’t fuckin’ yet.”

Paul held onto that ‘yet’ like his life depended on it. “Well between you and me, I like a good throw down every once and a while.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“So?” Paul asked. “Where did we land on that dinner?”

 


 

“Hey, this is really good,” Paul praised Daryl.

They were eating in the basement, because Daryl had wanted Rick, Michonne, and Judith to have alone time—but Paul liked to hope that Daryl also wanted them to have alone time. Daryl had made pesto (a rare treat they had found recently) pasta, with sundried tomatoes mixed in. They were sitting on the floor, pillows underneath them, and their backs against the wall.

“Learned to cook once my mom decided to spend every damn day drunk,” Daryl responded casually. “Merle was shit at it. My dad never lifted a damn finger.”

“Do you miss your brother?” Paul asked, sticking another piece in his mouth.

Daryl shrugged. “Yeah, but…know it’s shitty, but its better he ain’t here. Dunno if he would have changed enough to be okay with this.” He pointed between them.

Paul nodded slowly. “I’m sorry you lost him, either way.”

Daryl shrugged again. “Lost a lot of people.” Daryl continued to talk and Paul let him. It still felt like a dream, a strange and rare thing to have Daryl open up to him so easily. “You didn’t really know Glenn too well, but he was the best of them.” He smiled into his pasta. “Didn’t deserve what he got.”

Paul nodded. “Maggie told me all about him, and about her father, and her sister.” Daryl’s grip tightened for a moment over that last word. “Were you close to her?”

“Beth,” Daryl murmured. “I thought everyone was dead. Me and her, we were real different. Got on my nerves a lot too, but she was a good kid. Like a sister. Gave me hope. Then she died.” He shoved four pieces of pasta into his mouth, food a distraction to the ache that remembering brought them. “She would have liked you. Hershel too.”

“I’m very likable.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

Paul chuckled. “I know this will sound weird, and I know it may not seem like it, but it’s good that you felt so deeply about them. You were loved, you are loved, and you have felt love. Not everyone keeps what is human, and you did.”

Daryl glanced at him, lowering his nearly empty bowl. “You’re lucky, you didn’t have to deal with it.”

“Lucky,” Paul nodded, saying softly, “And lonely. I didn’t have a team like you did, I crept around from place to place until I found Hilltop. Once an orphan, always an orphan.” He knew the term didn’t directly apply to him, but as far as he was concerned, his parents didn’t care about him, so he didn’t care about them. “It’s different now though. I have a lot to lose.”

Daryl smirked, finishing off his pasta. “You talkin’ about me?” he asked, grabbing the rag and wiping it over his mouth, before he thrust it at Paul.

“Not anymore,” Paul mumbled, taking it off his face, wiping his own mouth. He finished off his pasta next, before putting his bowl over Daryl’s, bringing them over to the desk and placing them there. He smiled when he heard  Daryl get up, continued to smile when he heard the footsteps come in his direction, and laughing softly when Daryl wrapped his arms around Paul’s waist. “Hey,” he turned around in his arms, their noses brushing.

“Hey,”

“You want to know something?”

“Sure,”

“It’s going to make me sound like an asshole.”

“Yeah well,” Daryl mumbled, kissing Paul’s nose. “I coulda told you that, pal.”

Pal?

“Not good?”

“No, angel, that is not a suitable nickname for your lover,”

Daryl rolled his eyes, “I ain’t callin’ you lover.”

“You’re not being a good boyfriend,” Paul put both hands on Daryl’s chest. “As I was saying. I’m not sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“Any of it. It’s selfish of me, but I’m not sorry. A lot of shit has happened, but I’ve never felt so…”

“Happy?”

“Complete,” Paul whispered. “Does that scare you?”

“Nah,” Daryl murmured. “You’re too small to scare me.” He chuckled when Paul slapped his chest. “I get it. Don’t make you sound like an asshole. S’what you said before right?  Bein’ human.”

Paul nodded. “I mean, I wish we would have met before, but this is how it is, and I want to make the best of it.”

Daryl nodded back, and just like that, words were forgotten as they moved in to kiss each other. Paul’s butt was pressing against the desk, not uncomfortably, but enough that he felt it. Daryl was kissing him throughout, leaving nothing to the imagination. It was all tongue, deep kisses, more than he ever thought Daryl would give him this early on.

He had to keep reminding himself that it wasn’t early on for people who had been using foreplay for five months, and stuck in the apocalypse.

Making the best of it. Flowing.

Paul was good at those things. So he let Daryl kiss him breathless, until he had to move his head to reclaim some air, a gasp falling from him as Daryl’s mouth moved to his neck again, sucking a spot into the spot right under Paul’s ear. He liked that, the idea of Daryl leaving a mark on him, people seeing that this had happened. Paul was no exhibitionist by any means, but he always appreciated love bites out in the open.

“Can I?” Daryl whispered.

Paul, completely dazed said, “What?”

“I wanna…”

Paul was pretty easy going, but considering who he was with, and the amount of repressed sexual tension, and inner homophobia, paired with the physical and emotional abuse Daryl had endured before he became remotely comfortable in his skin, made Paul sure that he had to be clear about one thing.

He grabbed Daryl’s face between his hands and said, “If you can’t say it, then you’re not ready for it.” he made sure his voice was sweet, because he wanted whatever Daryl wanted to give him, but he did not want Daryl to feel pressured. If Daryl could say it, Paul would be sure he wanted it.

Daryl looked determined, it almost made Paul laugh. “I wanna blow you. That clear enough for you?”

“Yes sir,”

“Don’t call me that,” Daryl mumbled, and then dropped to his knees.

That was enough to get Paul half hard, just the sight of that. He looked down, refusing to put his eyes anywhere else as this unfolded. Daryl undoing his pants, looking determined but also a little afraid.

Then it dawned on Paul—he was Daryl’s first anything. He had fucked, but hadn’t mentioned things like this, and he was definitely Daryl’s first boyfriend. Paul didn’t know if he should talk, seeing as Daryl didn’t look like he wanted to be interrupted, but he felt he had to do something. To show Daryl that he wanted this just as much, and he wasn’t taking it for granted.

Paul’s hand made its way through Daryl’s hair, tenderly, scraping his scalp with his fingernails the way Daryl liked. He whispered exactly what he thought, “You’re so beautiful,” and hoped his voice was filled with emotion the same way he felt on the inside. Paul could talk dirty, but this did not seem like the time, place, or person to do it with.

Paul hadn’t been touched in so long, and although Daryl did not crave sex the way Paul did, they both craved touch. Paul desired every kind of touch, whereas Daryl was all about things that made him feel better on the inside. Regardless, having Daryl lay his hands on Paul’s naked hips was a blessing, a relief, and it had been so long that he had to still Daryl’s mouth from moving too fast to keep himself from coming apart too quickly.

Everything was hot and wet and it was blowing Paul’s mind. It didn’t matter that Daryl wasn’t terribly experienced, it didn’t matter that Daryl kept pulling off to ask if Paul was okay, if it was good, and Paul said over and over again, yes angel, yes its good

And it was.

It was over as fast as it had started, but it was so good. It was Daryl touching him and moving one hand down to palm himself through his jeans. It was Paul finding release after having spent so much time pent up. It was two people, who wanted each other in every possible way exploring and discovering what the other liked. It was Paul returning the favor, getting to his knees and pushing Daryl until he was on his back, swallowing him and working him the best way he knew how. Paul was known for his mouth for a reason, and he showed Daryl exactly that, and Daryl’s sounds were something lovely to behold. Daryl’s hands had found their home in Paul’s hair, and Paul had allowed Daryl to move himself towards the end of it, fucking himself into Paul’s mouth before he came.

Paul was glad Daryl had done that, that Daryl had given up control and asked for it back in the end. For trusting Paul with it before he trusted Paul to give it back to him.

Paul wiped his mouth, but didn’t have a chance to recover, because Daryl kissed him furiously, somehow maneuvering them so they were up, Paul in his arms, and on the bed.

“Wow,” Paul felt the air knocked out of him.

Daryl lay next to him, silent. Paul didn’t mind, and he couldn’t blame him. He was sure Daryl was coming down and thinking a million different things. It was hard for people who were not used to physical affection, sexually or platonically to get used to it. Daryl was likely confused, and that was normal.

“Are you okay?” Paul whispered.

Daryl nodded. “Tired,” he mumbled. “Happy,” he quickly assured Paul.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Daryl pulled Paul close to him. “M’sorry, don’t mean to be all in my head. I’m okay.”

“You can say what you’re thinking.”

“Just…heard for so long that this was dirty and bad and shit. But now I don’t feel dirty, I feel good. Don’t know why I was ever ashamed to begin with. Or why I was beaten for it.” There it was, the reason for all of it. For the pain Daryl held in him, for the scars on his back, for the reason he had hated himself for so long. 

The reason it took half a year for them to get together. 

Paul swept his hand over Daryl’s cheek. “If I could, I would take that pain from you. You deserve better than the hand you’ve been dealt.”

Daryl looked at him seriously. “I got better. Got you, remember?”

Paul smiled softly, and they kissed again. They kissed until they were tired enough to fall asleep in each other’s arms. That night, neither one of them had bad dreams, too comforted by the other's embrace to feel anything other than complete joy.

 

Chapter Text

Usually, when Daryl dreamt about Glenn, he dreamed about death. He remembered the blood. The crying, the screaming, Maggie’s face, all of it. He never dreamed of anything good.

But he did tonight.

He was at the prison, home. His first real home, since God knows there was nothing very safe or comforting about the house he lived in as a child. The dream felt a little Deja-vu, Glenn coming into their block with his hair rumpled, looking dazed. Daryl looked up from cleaning his crossbow; except, Daryl was looking at himself looking up. There were two of him.

This was a memory. He was dreaming a memory. Could people even do that?

Daryl snorted, “You’re grinnin’ like an idiot,”

Glenn smiled at him, taking the spot next to him on the steps, his legs reaching out in front of him, his elbows leaning awkwardly next to him. Daryl thought it looked uncomfortable, then and now, but somehow Glenn made it work. “Maggie is—”

“Don’t wanna hear about your sex life man.”

“I would listen to yours.”

“Don’t got one,”

“And whose fault is that?”

That was it. Glenn sat next to him, and they said nothing else. Glenn watched Daryl clean his bow, smiling tenderly. He stayed as long as he could, but he knew, he felt it that he couldn’t stay here long.

Daryl woke up with a tear leaking from his eye. He quickly wiped it away. He turned over and watched Paul sleeping, who had been curled up to Daryl’s back. He looked so peaceful, his hair splayed behind him, Daryl pushing the stray hairs away from his face. Paul’s mouth was tilted slightly upwards in his sleep, almost like he was smiling.

Typical, Daryl thought.

Figuring he should get on with his morning, he tried to move out of Paul’s embrace but the movement was enough to stir Paul.

“No,” Paul murmured. “Stay here. Don’t move. You’re so warm.”

“Gotta do my shit.”

“That’s unromantic,”

“Ain’t tryna be romantic.”

“Hence why you’re dating me. Training, or whatever,” he mumbled sleepily. He moved, snuggling closer, moving his nose back and forth over Daryl’s shirt, sighing happily. “I could stay like this forever.”

“Until you have to eat or piss.”

Paul finally opened his eyes, frowning at Daryl who smiled back at him. “You’re really invested in ruining my moment.”

Daryl kissed the top of his head. “A little.” He slipped himself away from Paul, smiling when Paul groaned and reached for him only to grab air. Daryl watched Paul watch him as he got dressed. He slipped on his vest last, feeling at home now that he had those wings on. Dwight was long dead, but every moment that he had worn that vest Daryl felt it like a punch to the gut. This vest was his, it had been with him from the start.

“Angel,” Paul murmured. “Said it from the start.”

Daryl rolled his eyes. “Just a vest.”

“It’s symbolism.”

Daryl laughed under his breath, leaning forward to plant a kiss on Paul’s mouth. “Be back in a bit, it’s my turn to bring Negan his food.”

Paul was a lot more awake now. “I’m coming with you,” and the way he said it, the way he shot a look of stubbornness towards Daryl, he knew that this was not the time to argue or disagree with him. Daryl watched Paul dress too, changing into something light instead of the usual layers he wore. He tied his hair up and had his sleeves pushed up to his elbows again.

“Ready?” Paul asked.

Daryl shook his head, walking forward and pressing his lips against Paul’s. It was soft, but somehow urgent at the same time, Daryl clutching at Paul’s shirt with Paul’s hands moving to Daryl’s shoulders. He didn’t think that he ever would stop feeling this way, he didn’t know that he could feel this way. Now that it was here however, he was not willing to let it go.

“Now I’m ready,” Daryl said, pulling away. “Let’s go. Hungry?”

“No, not yet,” Paul said, following him out of the basement. “We can eat after we bring Negan his food. Take our time, do nothing all day.”

“Maybe you can afford to do nothin’ all day, but some of us have to actually do work.”

Paul put a hand on his chest, feigning genuine hurt. “I can help you do work. What do you have to do?”

“I think it’s my turn to do duty. Can’t just take a day off cause my boyfriend is here.”

“Boyfriend, huh?” Paul grinned happily, and Daryl kissed him over and over again because he thought it was important to kiss someone who was smiling. “Alright well I’m a good look outer person.”

“S’either that or tendin’ to the gardens, don’t remember who’s supposed to do what today.”

“Farmer Daryl, huh?”

“I’d make a good farmer.”

“I’d like to see you in a pair of overalls I think, nothing underneath.”

“That all you think about?”

Paul laughed, coming into the kitchen behind Daryl, watching him prepare the breakfast food. It wasn’t anything fancy, a piece of toast, an apple, and a hardboiled egg that was already ready and waiting in the fridge. He put everything in a bowl and grabbed a napkin, motioning with a tilt of his head for Daryl to follow.

“No, no,” Paul replied. “I think about a lot of things with you, but they’re so disgustingly romantic that I don’t want to scare you off.”

Daryl looked over at them as they walked outside. “Like what?”

“You really want to know?”

“Sure,”

“Tell you what,” Paul said as they walked towards Negan’s captivation site. “I’ll tell you after this. Negan is going to obviously piss us off, so it’ll be a nice pick me up.”

“Deal,” Daryl nodded, his eyes now fixing on the door of the basement that held Negan inside. He felt his entire persona change as he stared at it, the happiness that had filled him from Paul’s closeness, happy words, and general existence faded as he descended the steps and put his hand on the door.

He could do this.

He opened the door and found Negan the same as he always was. The room didn’t allow for any weapons. It was comfortable enough in a way, because Rick was too good of a person. The room had a toilet and a shower, which he was allowed to use as he pleased. He got meals twice a day, and sometimes a snack between the two if they could spare. There was a cot in the room, with a couple of books on the floor.

So, he lived comfortably, but Daryl knew that it was not a good life for someone like Negan. Not being able to move, not being able to talk to people, and being bored all hours of the day. This was worse for him than being chained. 

Daryl still thought they should have killed Negan, but Rick’s mercy had gotten the best of him, and he had let Negan live. Even though Carl had died.

“Well, well, well,” Negan smiled, looking at Daryl hungrily. A look he had seen far too many times before. “Breakfast is definitely being served today, isn’t it?”

“Shut up,” Daryl murmured, handing him the plate. “Eat this.”

“Don’t you want to stay and chat?” he asked, taking the bowl from him, walking over to his bed. “For old times’ sake?”

Daryl crossed his arms. “Hurry up, I have to bring the plate back.” He leaned against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. Paul stood next to him, one hand settling on Daryl’s arm. Daryl looked over at him and smiled softly.

“Well fuck,” Negan laughed. “I’ll be damned. Daryl Dixon finally got a dick up his ass.”

Daryl shot him a deadly look, the best one he could muster. “Shouldn’t you be eatin’?”

“I think it’s you two who are eating.”

Paul stepped forward, his hand pressed on Daryl’s chest to keep him back. Daryl thought the movement was nice but unnecessary. They both knew that Daryl could break that hold more than easily. “Hey, you’re already a rapist and a murderer. Are we adding homophobia to that ever-growing list of shitty things about you?”

Negan smiled, it was cruel and awful and made Daryl’s stomach turn. His eyes were on Jesus for a while, drawing out the dramatics of it, before he looked over at Daryl. “I swing every which way, Jesus. Daryl knows that, don’t you Daryl?”

Daryl stood frozen to the spot, his past and his present colliding. He held himself, he grounded himself, so he could remain angry and set and determined in the face of Negan. Still, in the back of his mind, he remembered. He never really forgot it, but being with Paul had made it better, had made him want to think less. Made him not want to think at all.

Paul looked over at Daryl, raising his eyebrow. “What does that mean?” he asked, looking not disgusted as Daryl had expected, but afraid.

Negan took a bite out of the apple, winking at Daryl. “Means your boy has a good mouth on him.”

Daryl snapped. He made to move forward, to beat Negan to a pulp, to kill him to take him apart the same way he took me apart—

“Relax,” Paul whispered, grabbing Daryl’s face in his hands. “Hey, you’re okay. No one is going to hurt you, and you’re not going to hurt him.”

“Why the hell not?” Daryl snarled. He couldn’t stop looking at Negan, he couldn’t stop remembering it. The way his jaw had went slack, the way his entire body just didn’t have the fight in him anymore. There had been nothing to fight for, not really, not when Daryl was the one who had said he would do anything, anything to keep from Carl getting hurt back when he had sneaked into the Sanctuary.

Daryl hadn’t known that Negan was never planning on hurting Carl.

“Come on,” Paul said, searching his eyes, but Daryl couldn’t meet them. “Let’s go.”

“The—”

“We’ll come back for the plate later,” Paul said. He turned and glared at Negan. “I hope you choke on your food.” He said, and it sounded like he meant it, and strangely that didn’t comfort Daryl. That’s not what he wanted to hear, but he wasn’t too sure what he did want to hear. Or what he needed to hear.

Paul dragged him out of there, but Daryl wasn’t focusing very much. He was too much inside his head, thinking too loud about everything. That had been some of the worst days of his life, worse than even his father beating him to nothing. Daryl could handle the blood, the way his back had been ripped open time and time again. He could handle the slurs, the verbal degradation for his very existence. But what had happened to him in there, the beatings, the mental torture, the photos plastered on the walls, the dog food.

The rape.

Before he knew it, Daryl was sitting in the gazebo, looking at Paul but not quite looking at all. Paul was kneeling between his legs, his hands cradling Daryl’s face, his hand running through his hair, because he knew Daryl liked it so much.

Except Daryl couldn’t smile.

“I didn’t lie,” Daryl blurted out.

Paul looked confused. “What?”

“I’m clean, I didn’t lie, he didn’t…and I didn’t…”

“Daryl,” Paul’s hands moved from Daryl’s face to his thighs, running them up and down to soothe him. It didn’t do much. “What happened?” normally, there was ‘you don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to’ but this was different. They both knew they had to talk about it, now that Negan had put it out onto the open as he did.

Daryl wanted to put his head in his hands and disappear. He wanted to forget he existed, or punch something until his hand started to bleed. Instead, he looked into Paul’s eyes, trying to keep himself sane. Trying to remember himself. Looking into those steel blue eyes and remembering that this was someone who cared about him.

“Right before you got me out,” Daryl said lowly, disassociating enough that not even the words sounded real to him. He felt terribly outside himself. So he stared, stared hard into those eyes. “Carl was found out. I didn’t know…didn’t know Negan wasn’t gonna do a damn thing to him. I said I’d do anythin’ to keep him safe. So I did the anythin’. Negan shoved his dick in my mouth and I didn’t say no cause it was for Carl.”

Paul’s eyes were glassy, teary with the realization that Daryl had been used. “Angel…” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

“If you don’t…if you don’t want me anymore, I get it.” Daryl said, and even though he had to say it he hoped Paul would defy him.

“Daryl,” Paul shook his head, getting off his knees and sitting on Daryl’s lap. Daryl let himself fall into the embrace, their arms wrapping around each other, Daryl’s head buried in Paul’s chest. His nose was squished and he didn’t care, he just didn’t want to deal with it. He wanted Paul to smother him into nothingness, he wanted to forget everything, he wanted to only know the feel of Paul on him and no one else. Not just on his skin, but inside him—in his heart, in his mind. He wanted everything to be washed away by this new found feeling that Paul gave him. “I’m not leaving.”

Daryl’s hands shook as he held onto Paul’s shirt, feeling Paul’s fingers outline the wings on his back. “Okay,”

“But,” Paul said, pulling back, tucking Daryl’s hair behind his ears. “If I ever do something that you don’t want, you have to tell me, okay? Please?”

Daryl nodded. “Dunno what the fuck I did to deserve you.”

“Angel, we were made for each other.” He brought his lips down on Daryl’s, and he felt himself become grounded.

 


 

“We have to talk,” Paul said. They were sitting on the guard tower, their legs dangling off the edge. Daryl had his arms leaning against the rail, his forehead touching the wooden plank. He was still able to see over the fences through the space between the two. Tonight was quiet. His head was quiet. He didn’t expect the pain to leave so quickly, especially since he had been so used to having the pain live inside him for years.

“Breakin’ up with me already, huh?” Daryl asked, looking towards Paul. He looked like an elf, or a fairy, cross-legged, hair still tied up messily, eyes big and round, ears popping out. Wearing earthly colors that made him look like he was born from the ground, but in a different, better way than Daryl had been born from it.

Daryl knew he was born from the dirt, he just didn’t know until he found his new family that there were ways of being above it.

“Oh yes,” Paul grinned. “You caught me.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Not to be forward, especially considering the day you had, but we need to figure out a living situation after we get this stuff with The Whisperers finished.”

Daryl sighed, he had been avoiding that conversation purposely, mostly because he hadn’t made a decision for himself. He knew Paul was attached to the Hilltop, to making it his own with Maggie after having Gregory give it up. Daryl loved and missed Maggie, but he didn’t know if he had it in him to take a permanent residence away from Rick.

“Can’t think about that right now.”

“I think we have to,” Paul pushed kindly.

“We can do a week in each place?”

Paul sighed, shaking his head. “That’s going to tire us out, don’t you think? Don’t you want to just live in one place? Like you did before?”

“I go out on runs anyway—”

“Exactly,” Paul interrupted him smoothly. “Won’t you want to come home to one place?”

Daryl didn’t think much when he said, “You’re home. S’long as I’m comin’ home to you, don’t think it matters where I am.”

Paul smiled softly, giving Daryl a swift peck on the lips. “Nice try, we still have to figure it out.” But Daryl could see it in his eyes, what Daryl had said to him affected him a lot.

Daryl grabbed Paul by his chin before he could move too far away, keeping him steady. “Hey. I mean it.”

Paul kept his smile. “I know angel.”

“We’ll figure it out after, okay?” Daryl promised.

Paul nodded. “Okay.”

“Speakin’ of, not sure I like the idea of sittin’ like ducks waitin’ for the Whisperers to come shoot us off our ass.”

“If they have guns,” Paul reminded him.

“And if they do? What then? I’m rethinkin’ this shit a lot. Dunno if it’s the right thing, just waitin’.”

“We can scout a little tomorrow if it’ll make you feel better.”

“Yeah, we should. We’ll tell Rick tomorrow morning and then go.”

“Alright,” Paul nodded, he stared off into the space beyond their walls for a moment before he looked back at Daryl. “I have to ask, how were you able to go down on me after what happened?”

Daryl shrugged. “Was a long time ago.”

“Daryl, you and I both know that scars don’t leave so quickly.”

“Dunno,” except he did know, it was the wording of it that he had to choose how to explain. “Just…you know, that was somethin’ I had to do, to keep Carl safe. With you, was somethin’ I wanted to do. Didn’t feel wrong. Was something I wanted.”

“Okay, I just don’t want you doing it because you think I want you to. I mean I do want you to, but only if you want to.”

“You talk a lot.”

“I like the sound of my voice.” Paul laughed.

Daryl moved, tugging on the band around Paul’s hair, making it fall over his shoulders. “What were you gonna tell me about before? The romantic shit?”

Paul kept his smile, but it was different now almost sad. “I think about our life, how it could have been, maybe. Or how it could be even here.”

“Like what?”

“Well, if we weren’t here, in the apocalypse. Maybe we’d have met on the side of the road or something. My car breaks down and you stop to fix it—”

“You a porn director now?”

“Don’t be a dick, let me finish. Anyway, I’m an art teacher and you’re a mechanic and its love at first sight because well, come on, look at me.” He laughed loudly when Daryl gave him a deadpan expression. “Seriously, I don’t know. I just picture us in a small house, maybe with a dog or a cat. A child. Maybe, if you had wanted one. I think you’d be a good dad. Books everywhere. Just, something simple. Us waking up every morning to each other, going to bed at night without a care in the world. Being normal.”

“We have parts of that.” Daryl murmured. “Home, each other. Waking up and goin’ to bed. The books too, but you didn’t finish pride and prejudice.”

“I knew you would like that book.”

Daryl smiled, moving forward to nuzzle him. “You know me a lot better than I thought.” Their lips brushed, and Paul sighed into his mouth. “Is it weird to you that we…y’know it happened so fast?”

“Took six months,” Paul was moving forward too, trying to find his comfortable spot that he liked on Daryl’s lap, but Daryl had a hand on his chest to keep it back. “I don’t think its fast, I think its right.”

“It is,” Daryl nodded, their lips brushing again. “You are. You make me forget all the shit. You also make me wanna do a lot of shit.”

“So do it,” Paul whispered, practically begged. It set Daryl’s skin on fire.

Daryl felt hot, ready, wanting. “Lay back,” he commanded, and Paul did so willingly.

“Not used to being on the bottom,” Paul admitted. “But for you I’ll make an exception.”

Daryl hovered over him. “I ain’t fuckin’ you.”

“Tease.”

Daryl kissed his nose, before he pulled away his hands on Paul’s belt. “I wanna finger you.” He said, and he was delighted to hear the small whine that Paul elicited from him. “You said once when it was two fingers you start runnin’. Did you mean it?”

Paul shook his head. “Not with you.”

Daryl unbuckled him, undoing his pants, unzipping it slowly. “Tell me why.” Without taking off his pants, he slipped his hand inside of Paul’s pants and grabbed him through his underwear. Paul hissed.

“C-cause,”

“Cause why?”

“You’re different. You make me better. You make me forget all the shit too.” He whispered, and it was the closest thing they could say to I love you before they actually said it. So Daryl kissed him until Paul was panting, stroking him through his underwear until he was fully hard.

Paul doing this, Daryl doing this, when each of them was usually in the other position, meant that they were willing to do things for the other that they would never do for someone else.

Not to mention it got them both hot and bothered knowing anyone could see them.

Daryl slipped Paul’s pants down, but before he got to work, he ran his index finger over Paul’s mouth, and Paul opened it for him, letting it in. Daryl pushed his middle finger in as well, and the sight of that was nearly enough to push Daryl over his own edge. He was unbearably hard as it was, it wasn’t hard for him since he had barely ever done these things before, and Paul laid out like this, mostly dressed but naked and waiting was enough to send him insane.

When he thought that his fingers were slick enough, he removed them and kissed Paul furiously. “If I hurt you—”

“I know. I will.” Paul whispered.

Daryl nodded, and slowly, pushed one finger in. Paul’s hand shot down towards Daryl’s wrist, wincing. Daryl paused, allowing Paul to readjust. Neither of them spoke, the air thick and quiet and heavy with this moment. Daryl knew he didn’t have slim fingers, and also knew it was foreign for Paul to be in this kind of position. When Paul nodded, Daryl continued.

His eyes swallowed Paul up. He wanted to swallow him up. He wanted to run his tongue all over Paul’s body, taste him everywhere, and make love to him until they forget their names. Paul’s breathy little moans as Daryl pushed in and out with his fingers was the best sound he ever heard in his life. Before he could stop himself he pushed in a second finger and Paul’s voice came out high, a small ‘ah!’ his back arching as Daryl’s fingers twisted, pressing against his prostate.

“Jesus,” Paul whimpered.

“That’s your name.” Daryl reminded him.

Paul tried to laugh, but it came out a broken moan as Daryl stretched him, rubbing relentlessly against Paul’s prostate. “Another,” Paul whispered. Daryl looked at him fondly before he did as he was asked, looking at Daryl’s sweat over his forehead, his hair splayed like a crown on the wood under him. The flush of red on his ears.

Daryl decided to blow Paul at the same time that he added a third finger. Paul’s hand grasped Daryl’s hair from the duo pleasure, moaning. Daryl knew he wasn’t too good at any of this, but he wasn’t sure being an expert mattered right now. Paul seemed to enjoy himself, and Daryl knew that Paul had enough of a mouth on him to know that if he wanted something done differently he would have asked for it.

Paul was close, Daryl could tell because he was starting to move his hips up but then pushing down, unsure of which contact he was enjoying more. Daryl just felt drunk, on this power he had in his hands, knowing that he was someone who can make Paul come completely undone like this. He was aching in his own pants but he was so busy focusing on this, right here, tasting him and feeling him.

He pushed in another finger and pressed hard on Paul’s prostate.

Paul exploded.

Daryl made sure he got it all, and was surprised when Paul tugged on Daryl’s hair, kissing him, licking away the stray liquid that dripped from Daryl’s mouth. If that wasn’t terribly erotic, Daryl didn’t know what was.

“Lay back,” Paul grinned. “My turn.”

Daryl did as he was told. 

 

Chapter Text

Paul was sweating, and not for any reason he found acceptable.

A good reason to sweat was when he was getting hot and heavy with Daryl. That was his favorite reason to sweat. In fact, he would sweat all day if it meant that he would be tumbling around with Daryl in bed. Or outside. Anywhere really.

Except he was sweating because he was running, and fighting for his life.

Not exactly how he planned on spending his day.

Originally, their day had started off well. It had started with the usual calm and casual banter, the two of them joking around as they walked around in the forest. It was easy and almost as if they didn’t suffer from the fact that they weren’t mid-apocalypse. That easy-going attitude only lasted so long, because the further they went in the direction they were told by the Whisperer, they were ambushed.

They hadn’t even made it to the camp. Overrun quickly before they could manage a thing, they were fighting off Whisperers and running best they could. As it was, Paul didn’t see how they were going to make it out. It was two against too many, and every time they thought they had run far enough, the Whisperers caught up to them.

Luckily, they had guns, and the Whisperers only had knives.

“Come on,” Daryl grabbed his hand, his voice coming out a growl. They ran further still, Daryl limping. Paul’s heart was beating a million miles an hour, he had no idea how they would make it out. There was a small wound on Daryl’s thigh, nothing that would seriously injure him, but enough to slow them down.

They had killed enough of them to stop for a rest, the two of them panting as they hid behind a tree. Paul opened his backpack quickly and took out bandages and a tiny bottle of cleaning alcohol. He cleaned it quickly, before wrapping Daryl’s thigh up.

Paul shook his head, packing his backpack up again and throwing it over his shoulders. “I don’t know how we come out of this.”

Daryl took Paul’s hand and they lifted each other up, Daryl wincing. “We make it out because we gotta.”

“That’s not very encouraging. You’re bleeding and these people seem to come out of nowhere.”

“They’re quiet,” Daryl nodded, leaning against the tree, breathing heavily. “How many did we kill?”

“Maybe ten? Wounded a few others but I don’t know how long it’ll be until they come for us. We can’t stay here in the open like this. And we have to cover our tracks somehow—”

Daryl put his hand over Paul’s mouth, “You need to relax,” he commanded him, and Paul tried to do as he was told, relaxing his shoulders and attempting to stop himself from shaking. He was not scared for himself, he was scared for Daryl, for coming into this situation as they had. Being this afraid made him nervous. He wasn’t used to feeling this much fear, but knowing he could lose someone, someone important to him, made him fidgety.

“Okay, we need a plan,”

Daryl nodded. “The gas station Rosita and Tara went to. It ain’t that far from here. Gas station means there’s gotta be somethin’ else nearby too.”

“They can follow us easily.”

“We kill them all.” Daryl told him. Paul, who had never been one for killing people, no matter the situation, felt Daryl’s hand on his face. “We gotta.”

“What about our tracks?”

“Ain’t enough mud to leave a lastin’ impression. If we drag our feet a little it’ll just look like a giant mess, like walkers.”

“Okay,”

“You ready?”

“No,” Paul kissed him quickly. “Let’s go.”

They ran.

Their hands were held tightly onto each other, Paul gripping Daryl with all of his fears and anxieties pouring out of him. He was sure Daryl knew how he was feeling, Paul was so nervous, this could be it. This could be the last thing he would remember before he died. Holding Daryl’s hand.

All things considered, that was a pretty good way to go.

There was a slicing sound through the air, and as Paul turned his head to try and assess the situation, Daryl let out a loud yell and grasped his leg, his hand coming undone from Paul’s as he fell to his knees. Panic flared through Paul,  Daryl’s right leg was wounded in two places now. He looked over his shoulder and saw The Whisperers coming up to them, his mind racing with possibilities. These people had one-upped them so quickly before he and Daryl had even found the time to figure out who they were and why they were planning on attacking Alexandria. This was an enemy who was using the apocalypse—the zombies, the forest to their advantage. Paul didn’t know how to beat someone that he didn’t understand.

Paul grabbed Daryl’s face and kissed him with everything that he had. He kissed him and felt a million things, and was sad that this was all he would ever have. Nothing more, because he already had more than some people had in a lifetime. It was a relationship that had been too slow and too fast all at once. A relationship that no one but them understood, built on months of trust, and loyalty. They had bared their scars to each other, inside and out. So Paul kissed him, and when they broke apart, he pressed his forehead against Daryl’s, breathing harshly.

“I love you,” Paul said. “Get away, okay?”

Daryl’s eyes went wide, and he made to grab for Paul, about to demand an explanation. For him to stay. Maybe both. But there was no time,  and Paul had to die with a purpose. He knew it made no sense, it was the injured person who always went down in the fight, and gave their life for the person they loved.

Paul was not injured.

But he wouldn’t let Daryl die.

Paul took out his gun and quickly counted the Whisperers that were coming for him. There were six. He could handle that, hopefully. But the sound of the gun would bring walkers to him, and he wasn’t sure if he could escape both people and walkers at the same time. Regardless, Paul blocked out Daryl shouting for him—screaming—had he ever heard  Daryl scream? Paul couldn’t focus on it, he ran forward and dodged a thrown knife, sliding on the ground on his knees and shooting off one of the kneecaps of the Whisperers. He grabbed the knife of the one that had fallen and stabbed him in the neck. There was a swift kick to his gut, and he coughed, pain spiking through his entire body. He turned over and got up, shooting another one of them. He tried once more—

His gun was out of bullets.

This was it.

Paul stood to attention, knife ready. He would do what he can. He was a master martial artist after all. Paul ran over to one of them throwing a punch, he was terribly unaware of his surroundings in a strange way. There was too much going on, and his limbs felt heavy, and  Daryl, he hoped Daryl had gotten out because if  Daryl hadn’t—

Except a bullet whizzed through one of the Whisperers.

God damn him.

Paul took the surprise of his enemies and began to beat on them, slicing at every point he could, gunshots somehow missing him like his life was made of miracles and only hitting the people against him. Before they could make sense of the rest of it, Daryl’s hand had wrapped itself around Paul’s arm, pulling him up and hauling him along.

They ran without speaking, Daryl being supported by Paul, and holding onto Paul with shaking hands. They did as best they could with Daryl limping, leaving behind injured and dead people behind them. For the first time ever,  Paul thought he didn’t care about having killed those people. Not if it meant Daryl got to live.

Paul thought at least another hour must have passed, without them stopping. They had avoided the walkers who came for them just barely, moving continuously. As they had suspected, once they ended up passing the gas station, they walked another twenty minutes before they found a house. A shack more like, but shelter all the same. 

It was tiny, unseen almost, but they bolted in, praying for the best at that point. It was far enough from the opposers that they both hoped they would give up or be dead behind them. When the door shut, Paul wanted to sink down to the floor but Daryl slammed him up against the door, practically snarling at him.

“You piece of shit,” Daryl snapped. His eyes were raging. 

“Daryl,” Paul tried.

“No, shut up,” Daryl growled at him. “You don’t get to fuckin’ check out like that, just ‘cause you say so.”

“Daryl—” But Daryl silenced him with a hard kiss, unforgiving and brutal and he was crying. Paul pulled away and shook his head, wiping Daryl’s tears. “I’m sorry.” He whispered, kissing Daryl’s tears away, and Daryl, who was so angry just a few seconds ago completely dissolved in Paul’s arms, shaking and holding him close, his head falling on Paul’s shoulder. It wasn’t so much that Daryl was crying, but that it sounded like he was panicking.

“Breathe,” Paul whispered in his hair, kissing it. “Just breathe,”

They stayed like that for god knows how long, Paul rubbing circles on Daryl’s back, and Daryl trying to calm himself down long enough so he could have a proper conversation with Paul. He cared less about his wounds and more about this, whereas Paul was aching to check Daryl’s wounds.

“Daryl,” Paul said against Daryl’s hair. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think—”

“Don’t,” Daryl murmured, lifting his head up. “Just don’t. Told ya months ago I was tired of people dyin’. Tired of people decidin’ to just leave.”

“To keep you alive.”

“You think I wanna be alive without you?” Daryl asked seriously, his eyes piercing Paul. “You think I wanna go back home without you?”

Paul whimpered sadly, feeling tears burn his eyes as well, their foreheads touching. “I’m sorry my love, I’m sorry.”

Daryl shook his head, his anger having evaporated. He tucked Paul's hair behind his ears and spoke clearly, "I've only ever had you," he told Paul. "And losin' you...I can't Paul. I...that day when I almost lost Rick and I gave myself up like that, I was ready to die. I ain't ready anymore, cause I got somethin' to live for now. You can't go away." he sucked in a breath, looking like he was going to burst again, but Paul kissed him tenderly to relax him. 

Paul pulled away and said sadly. "You would have done the same for me." 

Daryl, of course, had no response to that, because they both knew very well that it was true. "Paul?"

"Yeah?"

"I love you too."

Paul didn’t have anything else to say. They had said everything they could have said, they had escaped death (again), and were holding each other. Nothing else mattered. Their lips came together, without the pressure that Daryl had applied to them before. Now it was something softer, their lips meeting and coming apart over and over again until they were done crying, done shaking, done being afraid.

They were alive, and in love, and everything would be okay because it had to be okay.

The universe owed them that.

One person who never had people love him properly, and another who had never loved someone at all, not really. How poetic that they should come together, in a world like this, where death was minutes away at all times. If anything, that made this love more special, more important. 

Paul became undone from Daryl's lips. He had gotten to be a very good kisser. Instead of dying at the hands of an enemy,  Paul decided he would rather die kissing Daryl. 

“Okay,” Paul sighed, pulling apart. “Let’s get the shower running. Get cleaned up okay? We’ll bandage up, and stay here for a while before we can make it back.”

Daryl didn’t say anything, but he nodded. Paul brought him over to the bathroom, turning on the light and letting out a sigh of relief when he found that the water was working. As it turned from cold to hot, Paul turned around to look at Daryl, who was looking at him sadly.

“Hey,” Paul murmured, touching his face. “We’re alive.”

Daryl nodded, and closed the distance, their arms wrapping around each other as they embraced, kissing each other thoroughly. Paul felt it all over his body, his body was still alert, he felt everything. Daryl’s tongue caressing his, their hands undressing each other, their naked bodies pressed up against each other.

Paul sighed into Daryl’s mouth, and Daryl let out a whimper into his.

They were a mess, but they were each other’s mess.

“Okay,” Paul said, grabbing Daryl’s hand. “Let’s wash up.” They got under the shower, and although there was no soap for them to use, they took their time, and at least were able to wash off all the dirt and grime off them. As they did, they smiled gently at each other, Daryl closing his eyes every time Paul’s hands moved over his body. Paul would let out chuckles where Daryl’s hands would linger, pressing against his skin, Daryl’s mouth skimming over Paul’s shoulder. The water cascaded over their bodies, hot and warm, and eventually instead of cleaning each other, they were kissing each other, all tongues and soft noises. Daryl’s strong arms coming around Paul’s body and Paul pressing himself against him as much as he could.

They could have died today, and that seemed to ignite something in the two of them. 

That paired with the admission of their love was enough to leave them forever wanting. 

“You wanna—”

“Yeah,”

“There’s a bed—”

“Yeah,”

Somehow, they managed to make it out of the shower without anyone falling to their death. They dripped everywhere, and somehow that didn’t matter either. Their hands were roaming around, and Paul was alive, alive, alive.

They walked over to the bed and that was the first time they broke away was so Daryl could sit back on the bed and get comfortable. He winced lightly, his head between the pillows, and Paul climbed over him, straddling him and looking down at him. Daryl’s hands were on his hips, resting there lightly, and Paul’s were on Daryl’s chest. Wet hair stuck to his face, blue eyes sleepy and full of lust.

Paul grinned, “We really should bandage your wounds.”

“Stopped bleedin’ ages ago.”

“You’re a masochist,”

Daryl looked at him sadly. “Maybe I am,” he whispered, leaning forward—but Paul met him halfway, and they began to kiss again, hot and wet and wanting. It was soft and slow, before heating up into something more, Paul nipping at his neck.

“Don’t move too much,” Paul whispered against his neck. “I don’t want to strain you.”

“But—”

“Don’t worry,” Paul assured him. his mouth moved up to Daryl’s ear and he whispered, “I’m going to ride you.”

“Jesus,” Daryl’s hips jerked from under him, and Paul smiled.

“That’s me.” He laughed as Daryl rolled his eyes. “Do you think we need foreplay or was six months of it enough?”

“Was enough,” Daryl nodded, nibbling at his chin.

There was no lube because despite what people thought about Paul he wasn’t as sex-crazed as people thought. The Hilltop, even when he didn’t have a boyfriend, thought he was a whore (those were exact words from a rumor that Paul always suspected Gregory had started). Even with Daryl at his side, people didn’t seem to change their mind about him.

But he didn’t really give a fuck about them right now.

Paul took Daryl’s fingers and slicked them up with his mouth, Daryl’s eyes growing darker as he watched. Without much thought, even though they had done it only once before, Daryl pressed his finger inside of Paul, and Paul moved back to feel it all, reaching around behind himself to add one of his own. They kissed sloppily as they prepped him, their wrists awkward and aching and neither of them cared.

“Okay,” Paul breathed against Daryl’s lips. “Okay, we got to do this before I bust right now.”

“You and me both.”

Paul looked down at him and smiled tenderly, his hand reaching for  Daryl’s erection. “This is happening,” he whispered. He shivered as Daryl’s hand slid down Paul’s back to the curve of his ass. “I love you.”

Now that he was looking, really looking at Daryl, he saw the effect that those words had on him. his eyes widened, as though he still wasn’t sure whether or not he believed him—or, no…

Because Daryl was not used to hearing those words at all.

Paul told him, “You deserve to be loved,” he vowed in that moment to say it as much as he can, to allow this person beneath him to believe that he deserved this. Of all the people Paul knew in this world, in hs entire life, Daryl deserved love more than anyone.

Daryl replied, “I love you too.”

Paul asked, because his self-esteem sometimes was as fragile as Daryl’s, and although he knew the answer to the question, it didn’t hurt to ask, “Do you want me?”

Daryl breathed, “Yes,” then with a pause he whispered, “Tell me again.”

Paul’s heart broke, but he would reassure Daryl until the end. “I love you.” And then he allowed his body to relax, and carefully pushed down onto Daryl. Daryl’s hands tightened on Paul from the surprise, and Paul let out a whimper, his hands curling into Daryl’s hair as he pushed down. Daryl who apparently could not keep his cool as well as he thought, snapped his hips up.

Paul’s eyes widened and he moaned, “Fuck,” he breathed, his arms shaking as he tried to regain himself. “Wait…fuck, wait…” he closed his eyes, trying to get used to the burn and the feeling, because it had been so long and this was going to be over too soon if he wasn’t careful. Daryl was panting loudly, and there was some movement on the bed, and Paul felt arms around him, Daryl kissing his neck.

“I told you not to mov—”

Daryl whispered, “Wanna touch you.” His hands roamed everywhere. “Please.” And Paul didn’t argue, because this was someone who had never been loved and Paul was someone who had never been in love the way he should have been.

Paul nodded and moved his hips, rocking himself smoothly on Daryl who sighed in relief, their lips coming together once more. There was not an inch of space between their bodies, and Paul was grateful for that. He had fucked in his life, but this felt like the real deal—making love.

Daryl gave up on kissing, his head finding home in Paul’s neck. “You feel good,”

Paul couldn’t respond, he couldn’t even think, he hadn't felt this good in so long. Every movement felt like fire on his skin, Daryl’s hands, Daryl pushing in a little best he could from how he sat. Paul pushing down, their lips occasionally meeting.

And Daryl's sounds.

It was like music.

Paul was always loud, he knew that he was. But he bit his lip so he could listen to Daryl, because those sounds were like nothing Paul had ever heard. Soft whimpers, not the grunting or growling Daryl used every day when he spoke to people. This was Daryl at his most vulnerable, panting and half-sobbing and aching and begging—

“M’close,” he whispered. “Sorry I just—”

“It’s okay,” Paul nodded. “Just…” he took Daryl’s hand and slipped it between them, wrapping it around his own erection. Daryl stroked it urgently which meant he was closer than Paul thought. So he whispered in Daryl’s ear, “Don’t pull out.”

Daryl whined again, biting down on Paul’s shoulder tenderly, making him arch. Paul moved faster, riding Daryl like he had everything to lose, and fucking into Daryl’s hand at the same time, trying to reach his own climax with Daryl. Daryl’s hips were jerking and he flipped them over, groaning slightly in pain from his leg, grabbing onto Paul’s hair. He pressed their bodies together and snapped his hips forward brutally, Paul finally letting out a yell as he came, his swollen prostate and his trapped erection bringing him to his peak. Daryl thrusted a few more times before he came inside of Paul.

Paul was seeing stars.

“Oh my God,” Paul laughed as Daryl collapsed on to of him. “I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. That was amazing.”

Daryl was shaking considerably, pulling out slowly, Paul whining. “You okay?” he asked, using the bedsheet to wipe Paul's inner thighs and his belly. 

“I’m great,” Paul laughed, touched by the sentiment before helping Daryl back onto his side. “Are you? Was I okay?”

Daryl tucked Paul’s damp hair behind his ear. “You’re amazin’. Always are.” He brought Paul closer to him, snuggling up. “Go to sleep.”

“I have to shower.”

“Later,” Daryl murmured. “Sleep with me.”

“We just did.”

Daryl chuckled softly and locked Paul to him so that he couldn't escape. Paul, who had been on the run his whole life, had never wanted to stay in one place so much ever before. Daryl fell asleep before him, but eventually, Daryl's breathing became a lullaby and Paul's eyes fluttered shut. 

Chapter Text

The next day, they woke up and showered together.

It started out fairly chaste, as chaste as either of them expected. They washed each other off, Paul taking special care of Daryl’s wounds which were really not as bad as he thought they were going to be. Naturally, things got out of hand, because now that they had a taste of each other, they couldn’t get enough.

Paul’s experience the night before with Daryl was enough to make him hard again. It was less about them having sex and more about what it meant to Paul. That Daryl had given himself to Paul in that way because he trusted him. Paul knew what it meant for Daryl to be naked, and Paul felt honored beyond belief that he was the one who was entrusted with that.

Of course, though, the physical act of it was amazing too. The slowness, the tenderness, and the way their arms had wrapped around each other. The way Daryl had just pounded—

“Hey,” Daryl murmured as the water came over them. “You okay?”

“Oh, I’m great.” Paul smiled at him. “I just zoned out for a bit, I just feel so good.”

“You wanna know somethin’?” Daryl asked, kissing Paul’s neck.

“Sure,”

“I think we should take the day.” Daryl’s mouth moved to the other side, biting down tenderly.

Paul giggled.

Paul giggled.

He didn’t think he would ever have a chance to giggle, not in this world, but here he was, giggling. With his boyfriend. “Like a day vacation?”

“Somethin’ like that. Just do nothin’ but fuck all day.”

Paul laughed loudly now, putting an arm’s length between them so he could observe Daryl. “Shouldn’t we get back?”

Daryl shrugged. “We killed all those bastards,” he wrapped his hand around Paul’s wrist. “You tellin’ me you don’t wanna do shit all, all day?”

“Oh no, I’m ready to fuck, as you so lovingly call it.”

Daryl grinned, and their lips came together, and it was a mess from there on in. it was a lot funnier in the shower than it had been on the bed. Paul almost slipped, and Daryl had caught him, lifting him up and pressing him against the wall to kiss him as much as he wanted. Except the wall was so cold so he yelped, stretching away from it and just hugging Daryl like a koala bear.

Daryl laughed softly. “This isn’t workin’ out,” he mumbled, setting Paul down.

Paul snorted. “Are you breaking up with me?” he grinned as Daryl pinched his side. “No, come on, every couple has to do the shower sex thing, let’s do this. Determination Daryl!”

“Alright, fine, but I got one request.” He said.

“Hit me,” Paul couldn’t help himself, he ran his hands all over Daryl’s sides.

“You gotta do me,” he growled, and Paul squeaked a yes before Daryl kissed him excitedly.

They kissed for a long while, feeling each other out, Daryl and Paul getting each other off with their hands—it didn’t take long for that to happen considering their situation. Their knuckles kept bumping, and they kept laughing into each other’s mouths, but that somehow made it better.

“Turn around?” Paul asked, making sure it came out as a question and not a command. He always wanted to give Daryl the option to say no.

Daryl battled himself for a millisecond—but Paul caught it anyway. He kissed it away, until Daryl relaxed and the nodded, turning around, putting his hands on the tiled wall.

“Relax,” Paul said, kissing his shoulder.

“Sorry,”

“Don’t be sorry,” Paul said, and then he slowly pushed a finger in.

Daryl had a strange reaction. They had only done this the one time before, the same night that he had done it to Paul, and though Daryl had still reached his peak, it had taken a long time for him to get used to what was going on. Mostly because he had been so nervous. Paul didn’t mind, he took as long as Daryl had needed and he would do the same now.

Besides, he liked watching Daryl’s expression move from slight pain and discomfort to pleasure. He liked watching Daryl get used to it and move back, silently asking for more. Paul still took his time, even when Daryl made the nice whiny noises that he liked. He moved it in and out fluidly until he was sure Daryl was ready for the next one.

“Another?”

Daryl nodded, and Paul pushed it in, crooking his fingers to brush against Daryl’s prostate. Paul grinned in satisfaction as Daryl swore loudly, pushing back hard. “Paul, just switch—” he shook his head. “Go in, c’mon…”

“Daryl you really aren’t ready yet.”

“Don’t matter.”

“Well it matters to me,” he laughed softly, kissing Daryl on the shoulder, and then his cheek. “It’s okay, just a little longer,” he encouraged him.

Paul scissored him open, stretching him and pushing him to the tip of his edge. He knew Daryl was close, he knew because he had come to know Daryl’s sounds so well. He had come to know his expressions as well as anything. Daryl was panting, his head hanging between his arms, his hands trying to grip onto something but not finding anything.

“It’s okay,” Paul told him. “It’s okay, I’ll do it now.”

Daryl whimpered almost in pain when Paul took out his fingers, his breathing even louder than the water. Paul kissed every bit of inch that he could reach as he lined himself up, before slowly pushing in.

Paul almost came right then and there. “Jesus, hold on,” Paul felt his eyes rolling back and shut them, pressing his forehead against Daryl’s back. He didn’t think it would be this intense. “Holy fuck, Daryl…”

“What’s wrong?”

“You’re so tight, holy shit. I don’t think we spent enough—”

Daryl, one who was never terribly patient, to begin with, grunted in annoyance and his hands came around back and grabbed Paul’s hips, pushing him in. Paul moaned loudly, and Daryl panted, one hand gripping Paul’s hip harshly and the other slamming against the wall. Paul was breathing so hard he felt like he had just run a race.

“Okay,” Paul winced, trying to arrange himself. Everything was very, very, tight and hot and—

“You gonna move or what?” But despite those words, Daryl moved his hips on his own, going up and down and god, if that didn’t want to make Paul blow his load right then or there.

“Daryl, this isn’t going to last long,” Paul panted, stilling Daryl’s hips and pushing in and out at a pace that suited him. He was already so close, from all the foreplay, from the way Daryl was so willing and eager. He was going to lose his god damn mind. “I’m sorry…”

“S’fine,” Daryl reached down between his legs to get himself off, and seconds later, they were both reaching their climaxing, Paul resting his head between Daryl’s shoulder blades, Daryl’s legs shaking as he tried to hold himself up.

Quietly, they faced each other after Paul carefully pulled out. Paul smiled stupidly at Daryl who kissed him on the forehead, the two of them silent as they cleaned themselves off. Finally, they turned off the water and stepped out, exhaustion creeping on them again.

“How about a nap?” Daryl murmured.

Paul nodded, enjoying the fact that neither of them were even bothering with clothes. They walked over to the bed (they had stripped off the sheets and washed them best they could with soap and water before having left them to dry), and got in with each other, the two of them facing each other.

Paul grinned at him happily. “Do you want to know a secret?”

“Sure,”

“I am very, very in love with you.”

Daryl smirked. “I’m real lovable.”

“Ass,”

“Love you too.” Daryl sighed, pulling him closer. Their noses pressed against each other, making Daryl chuckle and Paul smiled. “We’ll get up with the sun tomorrow and head back. Rick will be waitin’.”

“Definitely,” Paul mumbled. “But instead of taking a nap, I have a better idea of what we can do.”

Daryl snorted. “You’re gonna have to give me some restin’ time. I ain’t young anymore, gonna take me some time to get it back up.”

“Oh my God, you are such an old man.”

“I ain’t that old.”

“Are you kidding? Only old men say stuff like that.”

“You and I ain’t that far apart,” Daryl rolled his eyes. “Barely a ten-year difference.”

“Blah, blah, blah, old man.”

For the first time in either of their lives, they enjoyed a perfect day. Strange as it may be, to have a day like that in the apocalypse, they were glad that they got to experience it nonetheless. Paul, who had spent so long taking care of everyone else got to be taken care of. Daryl, who had never known an ounce of love of his life got to be loved all day long. They napped for barely an hour before they got up and made love again, playing with each other, laughing into each other’s mouths—

Loving each other.

Whispering tender things to each other that they would keep inside their hearts forever.

Unknowing to what they would be going home to the next day. 

 


 

Rick knew something was wrong.

He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew that something was about to go down. He was good at feeling those things, he chalked it up to the fact that he was a cop. Or maybe it was a sixth sense. Just feeling that special something in the air that told him everything was about to fall apart. It was morning, the sun rising, Daryl and Paul had been gone completely for two days, and Rick was holding his own. He was proud of himself.

But something wasn’t right.

Michonne watched him worry, before she quietly asked, “Rick, what is it?”

“Something is coming,” he said softly. “I feel it here.” He motioned to his heart.

Most other people would have called him a skeptic or something else that showed him to be insane. Michonne did not. She nodded once at him and responded, “Where should we take Judith?”

Rick ran a thumb along his bottom lip. “The nurse’s house. She’ll keep Judith with her in the pantry. I want to search this whole town.”

“Okay,” she nodded, and swiftly kissed him before she got to work. Rick bolted to the living room and grabbed Judith up in his arms, kissing the top of her head. She cuddled into his body like she always did, and Rick took a moment to himself. He breathed her in, and held her close, and knew love in his heart more than he had in a long time.

Michonne got their weapons and came down, her sword already strapped and handed Rick his ax and his gun. “Let’s go,” she said, kissing Judith’s head, and him once more before they got out of the house.

They moved quickly, going over to the nurse’s house to drop Judith off. “Take care of her,” Rick said, he knew it sounded like a threat, but he couldn’t say it any other way. He looked at his daughter, who was both so much like him and not like him at all and kissed the top of her head hard.

Then he took Michonne’s hand and left.

They walked through the town, quiet still because it was morning, one or two people outside going about their day already. Rick’s eyes were narrow, he felt like a bird of prey, looking out over everything, searching for any microscopic sign of movement.

Then he saw it.

At the gates, there was no one on watch. Rick stopped in his tracks, because his people who were on watch were dead, and already, camouflaged people had begun to climb the gates, two civilians who were just passing by already dead on the ground.

Rick readied his gun, and hoped Daryl did not come back.

He fired.

Chapter Text

“How’s your leg?” Paul asked as they walked. They weren’t too far away from Alexandria, but they were in no rush. They had gotten up slightly before the sun had risen, and decided to make their way, since they had already been gone longer than intended.

Not that Daryl minded. His body felt so good, like it had been made specifically for this--to be loved, and to give love. Which, he thought, was a pleasantly ironic thing considering his upbringing. 

The sun had been starting to rise on their walk back, which Daryl had thought to be quite romantic, though he didn’t say it out loud. Naturally, Paul had, and had grabbed Daryl’s hand as it had risen. For a brief moment, they had stopped their walk and watched it rise.

Paul said it was rare to see something more beautiful than a sunrise.

Daryl had disagreed, and said he got to look at Paul and that was more beautiful than anything he had ever seen.

Paul had smiled at that.

“Leg’s fine,” Daryl nodded at him. “Wounds ain’t deep, I can take it.”

“I’m sure it has to ache a little.”

“Nah, s’not so bad. My ass hurts more than my leg.”

“You are welcome buddy.” Paul laughed, and Daryl was suddenly overwhelmed with the entire thing—that they had made love, that they were joking around, that they were safe, and so he grabbed Paul and twisted him around and kissed him softly, hoping to put everything he felt into that kiss.

This is love, his mind told him, over and over again. This is love, you deserve this, this is love, you were born for this. Daryl didn't think that he would ever actively think such a thing, that he would ever actually have the ability to think it. He could geninuley not believe that in just a few days, he and Paul had gone from flirting as they had done for months to making love until neither of them could move anymore. 

Daryl couldn't believe it, but a voice inside his head told him, you deserve it. He wasn't used to that voice, but he liked that it was there. 

Paul pulled back and grinned happily, “What was that for?” His blue eyes sparkled, and  Daryl got lost in them. His long hair was soft and familiar, so Daryl touched the ends of them, curling those strands around his fingers. 

He was so full. 

All inside of him, joy, happiness, love, and peace radiating from him in a way he had never known or felt. 

“Dunno,” Daryl said honestly. “Just happy.”

“Happy, huh?” Paul asked, continuing their walk, his hand twisting with Daryl’s again tightly. “Who would have thought?”

“Not me,” Daryl said honestly. “Never thought it would be this easy.” He didn’t care about saying things about his feelings anymore, he knew that Paul would accept anything he had to say, no matter how sad or morbid it would be. “My dad, everythin’ he did, really never thought…” he trailed off, shrugging. “When you got as many scars as I do, makes you think maybe there’s a reason.”

Paul nodded along, but Daryl knew that he didn’t agree. He said quietly, “You know, I wish I had known you then.”

Daryl snorted. “Wouldn’t have gone well.”

“No, it wouldn’t have. I think I would have killed your father.”

Daryl, who didn’t want this perfect morning go down so quickly, kissed Paul’s cheek softly. He felt so light, so good, like nothing mattered but this, he and Paul, and nothing but this ever would matter. He had what he wanted, and he would never let go. “Don’t matter now. M’happy. You and me, I swear to God—”

“You mean my father?”

Daryl groaned as Paul roared with laughter, “When are those jokes gonna go out of style?”

“Never,”

“You’re really good at ruinin’ the moment, you know that?”

“I know, who would of thought my sarcasm would come in handy so much.”

“Dunno if I would say it comes in handy,”

“You know, speaking of hands, you’re excellent with your hands.”

Daryl smirked. “Yeah, I figured that out funnily enough with your loud ass sounds.”

“Oh look who's talking.”

“I ain’t loud as you.” Daryl put his hand over Paul’s mouth to stop him from answering back, looking him deeply into his eyes as he said, “I was goin’ to say, I swear to God, I never felt happier in my life. I love you. My life…it had meanin’ before, you know, with my family, with Rick and stuff. But you make me feel like…whole. Like whatever was missin’, it’s filled now.”

Paul smiled at him, one of those gorgeous, breathtaking otherworldly smiles that made Daryl feel happy and sad at the same time. One of those smiles that had him thinking that he would do anything to keep that smile there, and he would miss it when inevitably one day it was gone.

Paul told him, with clarity, “I love you too.”

Daryl, just because he could, said, “I know.”

They walked, hand in hand, the rest of the way in silence. They walked in silence just because they could, because sometimes the silence was more palpable than saying anything at all. Sometimes silence could say everything in a way that words never would. Daryl was born from silence, and had shaped it to his desires his entire life, and he was so incredibly grateful that he had found someone who was okay with his silences.

It reminded him of the moment from the night before, where during their sleep they had both woken up for only a couple of minutes. Neither of them said anything about it, they didn't kiss, or fuck again, they didn't say a word. They both knew the other was awake, and so they had curled up closer to each other, and just lay there in their sweet silence. Both of them knowing that this was something they were allowed to have. That the universe had given it to them. That every piece of love that they had between each other was being shared within that silence, shown in the way Daryl's hands ran smoothly over Paul's arms and hips slowly, lovingly. The silence had Paul's feet curling over Daryl's, twining with his and pushing his hips back into Daryl--not asking for anything more than just to be close to him. 

Silence allowed them many things. It was their little piece of heaven, where neither of them had to say a word to know how the other was feeling. It was a different way than Daryl's silences with Rick. This was more intimiate, personal, everything he never had before.

He loved it so much. 

But—

As it was their life,

And as all good things in Daryl’s life had to eventually end,

his heart stopped in his chest when he heard the screaming.

The guns.

Neither of them had to speak.

They jolted into action, running swiftly towards to Alexandria. Paul had his gun out, and Daryl readied his own as he ran. His crossbow was bouncing at his back, but all he could think about was that the gun was faster, and something was already happening.

They should never have left.

Paul whispered, “Jesus,”

Daryl didn’t look at him, he couldn’t, but he agreed. As they ran up, they saw someone hanging over the gate, dead. The place was open, so they slipped through easily, and Daryl’s heart dropped in his chest. Daryl didn’t have to think twice about what was going on, he knew, he knew it in his heart what was happening, he knew it was The Whisperers.

How naïve they had all been, thinking that they had killed enough of them to stop this madness. How naïve it had been to assume that the world would allow them their temporary joy.

Daryl was not a man who prayed. He never thought God was on his side. In fact, he knew as a fact that for most of his life God had not been on his side. It didn't matter that he was a survivor, the fact of the matter was that his life had never been held by careful hands. 

Still, in that moment he sent out a prayer. He hoped, prayed, wished, begged that for just this one time, let things go smoothly. Let things be okay. Let Paul stay safe. Let his family live another day. They had fought enough. 

Daryl had fought enough. 

Daryl looked around him quickly, shooting off his gun to anyone he didn’t know by face. Paul did the same, the two of them sticking close together as they ran through the town, trying to drown out the screaming and gunshots, and trying to make sense of the battle around them.

Negan was fighting.

Daryl didn’t care whether he lived or died.

He looked around him, searching, searching—

“Where is he?” he panicked.

Paul didn’t have to ask who he was talking about. “’Keep moving,” he said, pushing him along. He wasn't trying to be mean, he was trying to keep Daryl focused, but Daryl couldn't be focused, not without knowing where he was.

Rick, Rick, Rick.

They ran, Daryl recognized the people he loved, still fighting. He saw his friends, his family, fighting the good fight. He saw Rosita in the distance, fighting alongside others. She had blood on her, but it didn't look like she was injured. Of course, she wouldn't be. Rosita had too much pride to be injured again, after all of this. 

Tara was fighting too, Daryl didn't see her, but he heard her shouting orders. She was good at that, taking charge. It settled something in his chest, knowing she was safe.

And yet--

He wondered where Judith was. He wondered where Michonne was.

He wondered, mostly, where Rick was.

Daryl was sending out shots, but he didn't really understand what was going on around him. From the looks of it, it seemed as though they were winning. The other side didn't have too many guns, it seemed the ones they did have were being picked up from the dead on the ground. But as Daryl turned and turned, looking and assessing, he was happy to see that the dead were mostly The Whisperers, and not his own people. 

Give me this, he begged--the universe, God, whoever was listening, let us live. He wasn't ready to let go yet. Not of this place that he had so hated, not of his family who he had once been so uncertain of, not of Paul, next to him, who he loved more than his own life. 

“There,” Paul nudged him.

Daryl didn’t understand how they were avoiding the battle in so many ways. He didn’t understand because he felt like he wasn’t part of his body until his eyes were on Rick.

Then everything zoomed into focus.

Daryl and Rick locked eyes, and everything made sense again. There he was, unharmed, sweating but unharmed. His blue eyes alive, focused and both relieved and angry when his eyes fell on Daryl. But he smiled a little, and  Daryl nodded back, because now everything would be okay. They were together. Rick was fighting, and he hadn't fought in a long time. 

They would make it out of this, because they always had. 

He’s alive.

“Rick!” Daryl made to move toward him, to fight alongside him, to be next to him like he always was for every battle. To be more than his friend, to be his brother, his soldier, to be anything that Rick needed to be. 

But—

Like all things in Daryl’s life,

Even this momentary peace of finding each other had to come to an end.

Daryl heard gunfire,

And he felt the bullet.  


Chapter Text

The bullet skinned Daryl’s side.

Daryl faltered, stumbling slightly, whipping around and firing off with his own gun. His anger took control, his protectiveness took hold of him, pushing him over the edge. He fired until he had no bullets left, then took hold of his crossbow, not so much minding the little droplets of blood that came from him.

Paul felt relief like he had never known, once he saw that the bullet just went past Daryl. He had let out an audible sigh of relief, then turning with Daryl, sticking by him, sending off his own shots. Paul took it upon himself to run a little forward when he needed to, using his fists and feet to take them down, stabbing them with their own weapons.

It didn’t take long after that, there were so much more Alexandrians than there were of Whisperers. Eventually, the fight died out, eventually, the gunshots stopped, eventually, the Whisperers were all fallen. It was a strange battle, over fast enough that Paul still had his breath, but scary enough that he felt like everything was happening slowly. It had been overwhelming because they hadn’t been here from the beginning.

Paul hadn’t realized he was shaking until Daryl held his hand.

They looked at each other, Daryl moving in front of him, his hand on the side of Paul’s face. Paul stared into those blue eyes, knowing he was okay, home.

Then, Daryl’s eyes unfocused.

He was looking over Paul’s shoulder.

“No,” he whispered, and let go of Paul.

Paul turned around with him, his heart dropping down to his stomach. He moved forward unsteadily, not understanding what he was seeing. He registered that Daryl was running forward, dropping to his knees. Paul shook his head, no, this couldn’t be happening, this shouldn’t have happened, not to them.

“Rick,” Paul whispered, falling on his knees next to Daryl.

If Rick heard him, he didn’t show. Rick had his eyes on Daryl, and Daryl had one arm wrapped around Rick’s shoulders, holding him close, and his other hand over Rick’s wound. The bullet may have grazed Daryl but it had lodged itself inside of Rick’s stomach.

That was the truest form of tragedy as Paul saw it. He knew very well that Daryl would die for Rick, he knew just how cruel the universe was being right now by having a bullet meant for Daryl take out Rick instead. 

Daryl would not recover from this. 

Paul shook his head, his hand moving forward and touching Daryl’s shoulder. He knew he couldn’t say anything, he just hoped that his touch would be enough to help. Rick was smiling serenely up at Daryl, and Daryl—Daryl was falling apart.

“Where’s Michonne?” Daryl growled, doing very good at pretending like he wasn’t crying.

Rick shook his head. “S-She went back, for Judith. I asked…I asked her to go, after we started fighting...keep her safe…” he coughed up some blood, and Daryl shifted so that Rick was laying down completely on the ground, Daryl wiping away Rick’s blood.

“It’ll be okay,” Daryl told him. “We’ll get you help.”

“Daryl,” Rick raised his hand. He put his bloody hand on Daryl’s face, his fingers tightening in Daryl’s hair. “Please.”

Daryl shook his head. “Shut up,” he looked over at Paul, like there wasn’t a bloody handprint slipping over his skin, over his features. Paul could barely look him in the eye, this was too much. “Help me get him into the house.”

Paul felt his entire body cracking into pieces, he couldn’t even imagine what Daryl was feeling. Tears burned his eyes, and he didn’t stop himself, he let them fall, and shook his head. Before Daryl could get mad at him, before those tender blue eyes could turn into a cold stare, he said shakily, “Let him say goodbye,” Paul whispered to him.

Daryl snapped viciously, “We have to save him!”

“Daryl,” Rick’s voice—strong, everlasting, as usual, the only thing that brought Daryl back. Daryl turned his gaze away from Paul, locking eyes with Rick. “I’m ready.”

“Fuck you,” Daryl spat, but there was no heat to his words. “You ain’t even givin’ me a chance to save you.” And his hand moved away from Rick’s wound and to his face, bending himself nearly in half as he lifted Rick best he could, their foreheads touching. “Please…” he whispered, broken—Paul felt like he was being stabbed in the heart.

He couldn’t believe this. Not Rick. Not their leader.

Rick smiled again, the tears from his eyes slipping in with the blood. “You saved me already Daryl, so m-many times…” he hiccupped a little more blood. “O-over and over.”

“Don’t leave,” Daryl begged, and now, it was here, the beginning, the crying, Daryl falling apart, shaking wildly. People were coming over, Paul’s eyes met with Rosita, but not Tara. She was running off, presumably to go get Michonne. Rosita was crying, her hand over her mouth.

Paul looked back at Rick and Daryl.

Two best friends.

Two soulmates.

Now one was going to have to live without the other.

The world wasn’t fair. The world had never been fair. It had given them something spectacular, and now was taking part of it away. Paul had never known that it would be this cruel.

“Listen,” Rick said, his hands tight in Daryl’s hair, Daryl’s hand tight in his. Their foreheads touching, their noses bumping together—it looked like they were trying to fuse their bodies together. Like Daryl wanted to take half the pain, be shot as well, take some of the blood. “You, you have to leave after this, okay?” he whispered. “You…don’t stay here.”

“Rick—”

“You need to make a life,” Rick told him, and now Paul thought that it sounded like Rick was begging. “Go with Paul. Leave me behind.”

Daryl whimpered brokenly, his grip clenching. “Ain’t gonna ever leave you behind.” But the three of them all knew what Rick really meant. He didn’t want Daryl to stay in this place, filled with regret, going to see that grave every morning. He wanted Daryl to go to Hilltop with Paul, to live, to be with Maggie, to continue on, and not fall apart in the same way Rick had done with Carl.

He wanted Daryl to fight, like he had always done. Be happy, like he deserved. 

It made sense, Paul thought, that Rick's dying wish would be for Daryl to be happy.

Daryl whispered, “Stay,”

Paul couldn’t stop crying.

Rick responded with a sad gaze, his hand running along the side of Daryl’s face. “I’m sorry,” he told him. “Ain’t never enough time. Sorry because I didn’t…wasn’t who you needed.”

“You were, Rick, you always were—”

“I love you,” Rick told him, coughing up too much blood, making Daryl panic. “Brother.”

“Rick, no, no, please—” Daryl coughed, choking on his own tears, shaking his head. “Don’t go.”

But Rick was already slipping. He smiled at Daryl, his eyes slowly glazing out, and he whispered, “Carl…” before he closed his eyes, and his hand fell away from Daryl’s face.

Paul felt like someone had ripped his heart in half. He moved forward immediately, Daryl had let out a blood curling scream, clutching Rick close to him, blood seeping into his clothes, Rick’s handprint still on his face, blood matted into the ends of his hair. Paul wrapped his arms around Daryl from the back, doing his best to still his shaking body. That scream was going to haunt him for the rest of his life, it rattled his bones. 

Michonne was running over, but she was faltering, and suddenly she was screaming too, and everything was too much, and Paul didn’t even want to think about Judith—

Paul whispered to Daryl, “Let go of him baby.”

“Shut up,” Daryl moaned, holding Rick so close to him that Paul couldn’t tell where one started and the other stopped. What blood was the enemies, or their own?

“You have to let Michonne say goodbye,” Paul told him, kissing the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry my love.”

“Don’t leave me here,” Daryl whispered into Rick’s neck. “Come back…”

Only when Michonne had made it over, with the help of Tara and Rosita, did Daryl give up on holding Rick’s body. Only when Michonne wailed into the sky for the love of her life did Daryl allow Paul to let go of him, to help him up.

But Daryl couldn’t stand.

He collapsed in Paul’s arms, crying violently, falling to his knees, and making Paul drop with him. There was nothing to do, nowhere to go. For now, all Paul could do was hold his crying, broken-hearted boyfriend in his arms, his eyes never moving from Rick’s lifeless body behind them.

Chapter Text

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.

Lori.

Andrea.

Hershel.

Beth.

Abraham.

Glenn.

Eric.

Morgan.

Eugene.

Carl.

Rick.

Rick, Rick, Rick.

Daryl’s eyes opened, heavy and with small tears by the end. They weren’t from his dreams, but he had forced himself out of one, which often caused his eyes to react like that. He hadn’t cried for one of his dreams in a long time. He turned over on the bed, annoyed that he had rolled away from Paul during the night.

Two years had passed.

Two years had passed, and the world had actually, well, gotten better. They hadn’t fought a real war since the Whisperers, Maggie had a kid growing up, Rosita and Tara were still alive, and Carol and Ezekiel were okay. Aaron was raising a child and had a boyfriend.

And Daryl?

Daryl was happy.

He didn’t think it possible, to be honest.

He moved closer towards Paul, pressing his lips against Paul’s briefly, smiling as Paul stirred, but didn’t open his eyes. “Five more minutes,” Paul muttered, moving closer and wrapping his arms and legs around Daryl, nuzzling into him.

Daryl smiled softly and let him stay there, his nose running through Paul’s hair.

Daryl had done what Rick had told him to do. After he died, after he mourned the loss and stayed in that place and tried to remember what it meant to be alive, he let Paul drag him away. Michonne and Judith stayed there, which Daryl thought might be okay for them, to be with Rosita and Tara. That made sense for them. But Daryl…it was too much. Rick had been right to tell him to leave, because Rick knew Daryl better than anyone, and he knew Daryl would have died if he stayed in that place.

Daryl leaving saved his life.

He helped out with Maggie, and lived in the trailer with Paul—and that felt close to the life he should have had more than those big houses in Alexandria ever did. It was easy and simple and everything Daryl wanted and needed. The trailer was lived in now in a way that it wasn’t before. There were his clothes scattered around the trailer, a few paperbacks he enjoyed stacked over Paul’s, and his weapons next to Paul’s by the couch. It was small, but it was theirs.

It had been a long time since he woke up crying, but it had been the first time in a long time that he woke up feeling so light. Usually, when he woke up, he still felt like he was in a dream. Sometimes when the dreams were vivid, when Rick was so real that Daryl could touch him, feel him inside and out, in his heart and a heavy hand on his shoulder, he would wake up and get out of bed, with the intention of going back home to Rick. That lasted until Paul would kiss him good morning and somehow, that would ground him in the present and Daryl would remember that his best friend was dead and six feet under and he would never hear Rick’s voice again.

Sometimes Daryl never got out of bed.

Paul was always good on those days. He made sure there was food and water by the bed and if Daryl wanted him in the bed he was there, and he was gone when Daryl asked for that too. Daryl didn’t know what he had done to deserve someone who gave him that kind of time, who gave him the world when Daryl thought he was asking for the impossible.

Nothing was impossible though, for Paul.

Paul finally opened his eyes, mostly because Daryl’s fingers had begun to trail a little too south to keep him asleep.

“Fine,” Paul mumbled sleepily, opening his eyes. “I’m up but I’m not happy about it.”

“Then, you’re you.” Daryl shifted their positions so they could look at each other. He didn’t feel like moving today. “Sleep okay?”

“Hard not to considering the physical exertion you put me through yesterday.” Paul smiled. “I don’t think I’ll be walking much today.”

“You’re welcome.” Daryl grinned.

For some moments, they stayed quiet. Their lazy good morning continued quietly into the following minutes, their mouths meeting. It was unhurried, just the two of them, all lips and wandering hands and sighs and Paul laughing as Daryl touched all the spots where he was ticklish. Paul pulled away, and for a moment, Daryl got lost in those intense, sparkling blue eyes. There was so much love in them, even in such a small moment like this. It was one of those moments where Daryl was painfully aware of his body, of his existence, in a very different way than he was when he was faced with something dangerous. Those moments were always full of adrenaline, fight or flight. This was different. Daryl did not want to move. He wanted to be this aware, this happy, and this full every single day.

“Hey,” Paul whispered softly. “What are you thinking so hard about?”

Daryl twisted his fingers through Paul’s hair, before tucking them behind his ear. “You,” he murmured. “Always you.”

Paul’s eyes softened. “Good things, hopefully.”

“Nah, you’re a pain.”

“Um, excuse you, it’s my ass that’s in pain, not yours pal. So you’re the pain.”

Daryl snorted. “Just nothin’. Think life is funny.”

“Funny ha-ha, or funny in a metaphorical way.”

“You got a lot of sarcasm for the mornin’ time.”

“I could put my mouth to other uses if you’d like,” Paul laughed loudly when Daryl rolled his eyes, leaning forward and biting him on the shoulder. “Okay, okay, serious time. What are you thinking about?”

“You,” Daryl said again. “How Rick wanted us to be a thing before I realized I wanted us to be a thing.”

Paul’s smile remained. “Rick did always have a good sense of how things should go.”

“M’really glad that I came to live here with you.” He told him. “I know I say it all the time, but I am. Feels like everythin’ inside me settled.”

Paul tucked his legs over Daryl’s, pulling their bodies together again. “I know what you mean. Life is actually improving, fewer walkers, more people. It’s like…things are changing, and for the better.” Then, before Daryl could say anything in response, Paul ran his hand along the side of Daryl’s face, his thumb tracing his cheekbone. “This is what Rick wanted. For you, for us, for this world.”

Daryl didn’t feel like crying, so he bit the inside of his lip. “Yeah,” he murmured.

“It’s okay to miss him.” Paul smiled sadly. “It doesn’t matter that it’s been long, those things never really go away.”

“I know, just tired I guess.”

“Dreams?”

“Ain’t as bad as they were,” Daryl admitted. “You know though, I dream about you too. Ain’t all bad, the ones of you are always good.”

“Lover,” Paul whispered. “You don’t have to dream about me. You have me. This good thing is never going away.” He tucked his hand in Daryl’s hair, their foreheads touching, their noses brushing. Daryl felt his heart fluttering in his chest. “Everyone always told you that you were going to be the last one standing, but it’ll be all of us left. Both of us. This, this is forever.”

Daryl was overwhelmed with it all—with missing Rick, with loving Paul, with being alive. He twisted his body so he was over Paul, and part of him wanted to come undone and make love to him until he couldn’t breathe, but instead, he gave into his basic instincts.

Daryl hugged him.

He lowered his body, knowing that Paul didn’t mind the weight for a while. Paul’s arms surrounded him, and Daryl buried his face in Paul’s neck, his hands crushed under Paul’s back and between the mattress. They held each other, in this new world, in the world that so many people had died to try and see.

They were the ones who got to see it.

Daryl held on, and didn’t let go—

He wouldn’t let go.

Daryl sighed, kissing Paul’s neck. “I love you,”

Paul’s hands were running marathons over Daryl’s back, into his hair and back down again. “I love you too Daryl.”

That was all there is.

So many things would not be okay again, so many things had never really been okay to begin with. But that wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was this—

Lying in bed with the person he loved more than anything in the world.

Being alive.

Getting to spend his life with his friends, with this man.

Rick was dead, but Daryl would never forget him. He held Rick in his heart, tucked away only for himself. He told Judith stories about her father, and he and Michonne sometimes shared a late night talk about him. Rick was something private and dear to his heart, and he wouldn’t ever stop missing him.

But it was okay to miss him, because what was important was that Daryl didn’t give up fighting. He walked on. Hand in hand with Paul.

Beneath him, Paul said, “You know something?”

“What?”

“I don’t think I ever want you to get off me.”

“Funny,” Daryl whispered, “I don’t think I ever want to get off you either.”

So he didn’t, for another half hour. The sun rose in the windows and streamed over his scarred back, and he felt Rick in his heart, and Paul in both his heart and against his body and for the first time in a long time, Daryl knew what it meant to be home.