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A Werewolf and His Hunter (Rick/Daryl TWD)

Chapter Text

Daryl’s hair whipped around him as he flew through the countryside into the small town. He slowed down on the curve into the crusty trailer park he called home. His nose scrunched up at the smell of pot and cigarettes that greeted him as he passed through. When he pulled into his spot, he noticed a cop car parked outside his trailer.

“What the hell?” he asked under his breath. Dread spread through him like a hurricane after he realized that whatever the police wanted probably had to do with Merle. Daryl prayed that he wasn’t about to find out his brother had finally pissed off the wrong sun-of-a-gun and got himself killed in prison. Daryl took his time getting off his bike, trying to delay the situation at hand.

The driver's side door of the vehicle opened up first. Out stepped a man around Daryl’s height. He was in his early forties, late thirties. He walked with purpose. His legs were long and lean. Daryl drank in his features. The man’s face was the real money maker though. From his stubble to his piercing blue eyes, Daryl felt weak in the knees.

“Are you Daryl Dixon?” the man asks with his hands on his hips. He looks at Daryl like he’s trying to figure out how Daryl is reacting to his presence. Daryl wonder’s what those baby blues see. Daryl quickly looks down. He’s never been good at talking to people, especially not pretty boy cops.

“Yeah,” he croaks out, “Is there a problem officer?” The man makes eye contact with his partner. He recognizes her from the diner Merle and he used to visit before work. She would often be there drinking her coffee and eatin’ an egg and sausage biscuit. She is well known as being the gay female cop that never stops flirting with the waitresses that look her way. Well until she got with her fiancee. It was the talk of the town for weeks. They are the first openly gay female couple. Their wedding will be the second ever gay wedding in this crappy town. The first was his buddies Aaron and Eric. He works with Aaron at Dale’s auto shop.

“Can we have a talk inside Mr. Dixon?” The woman asks. Daryl shrugs and opens the door for them. There are clothes everywhere and dirty dishes overflowing the sink. For the first time in his life, Daryl feels embarrassed by his mess. He quickly throws a dish towel over the sink in a poor attempt to hide the clutter.

“I’m officer Rick Grimes and this is my partner, Tara Chambler. We have some news that might be difficult to hear.” He watches Daryl for a reaction. He hates the way officer friendly makes him feel. Its like he is looking right through him. Daryl brings his thumb up to his mouth and starts biting the skin. “You may want to sit down Mr. Dixon.” Officer Grimes says. Daryl shakes his head and leans up against the counter.

“Did something happen to Merle? Is he okay?” He asks with anxiety clear in his voice. Merle was never a good brother but he was kin. Daryl wouldn’t know what to do with himself without Merle. Merle was something he could focus on. His brother always needed something: money, a home, beer, you name it. As much as Daryl hated the dependence, it made him feel useful and less alone.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know anything about a Merle,” Grimes replied. Daryl released a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. “We do, however, have news about your uncle Jesse. Yesterday morning he lost his battle with lung cancer. I’m sorry for your loss Mr. Dixon.”

Daryl’s brows frowned. He hadn’t seen or heard from his Uncle since his father’s funeral. Honestly, he had forgotten Jesse existed.

“I, um, wasn’t close to him,” Daryl says though he doesn’t really know why. It’s like he wanted to comfort the officers. He can’t imagine how hard it must be for them to have to deliver this type of news to people. Officer Chambler nods in understanding.

“He left you his land in his will.” She says, “and if you ask me it’s heaven on Earth.”

“You been there?” He asks. Officer Grimes elbows her in the side and gives her a disapproving look. She shrugs and rubs her belly.

“A few years back, we got a call from the Greene farm about a disagreement between them and your uncle. He was accused of shooting one of the Greene’s cows on accident while hunting. Your uncle was forced to pay a fine for the damages.”

Daryl nods, accepting the answer. He finishes up his conversation of how to get the keys to the land and all that bull. It just ended up giving Daryl a headache.
---
It had taken Daryl a week to find the time to visit his Uncle’s, well his, home. Dale, his employer, had been asking him to work overtime and Daryl didn’t have the heart to say no. Dale had done so much for him over the years that he felt he owed him. Dale had given him a job even though he knew of the Dixon reputation. He never treated Daryl like he was redneck trash, unlike the rest of the town. Hell, after the last time Merle got out of prison, Daryl begged Dale to give Merle a position. Dale was weary but trusted Daryl enough to hire his brother. Merle managed to fly under the cops radar for a year before he got caught again, this time he was going to be in for 7 years. Saying Daryl was pissed would be an understatement. He didn’t understand why his brother kept choosing drugs over him. Not to mention, he was scared shitless of losing Dale’s trust. He had cried for the first time in who knows how long because of it. He didn’t want to let the one person who had in faith in him to be disappointed.

Dale was upset, but not with Daryl. He actually gave Daryl a hug and consoled him for the loss of his brother. Even though Merle’s heart was still beating, he was killing himself with the drugs and alcohol. It was only a matter of time before it took him, though if you ask Daryl he lost his brother the day he started using.

As Daryl made the 25-minute trek out of the town that never loved him into the woods that raised him, his mind was at ease. A rare occurrence that he appreciated greatly. His hair was long and untamed much like the foliage around him. The sound of rocks and mud crunching under his weight reminded him of his childhood running around these very woods.

When he was 5 years old, still naive to reality, his mother would tell him the tale of Peter Pan and the lost boys. No matter how many times his Momma said it he still requested it whenever she offered a story. It was rare that his Momma felt well enough to do anything more than drink, smoke, and sleep so story time was a blessing. Her depression from years of abuse took its toll.

He would go out into the woods to pretend that Peter Pan had taken him away to Neverland where there were not adults with belts to whip him with or bottles to throw at him. The thought of belonging to a group of outcasts like himself brought him joy like no other. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't jealous of Wendy. Thinking back on it, Peter Pan was his first crush. He craved to be loved by a man who was adventurous and funny like Peter. Who didn't back down from a fight when it was to protect his family. Who made Daryl feel alive. But as Daryl got older, he learned that no one would love him like that. There was no pixie dust or flying boys with tree houses. There was no Neverland and there was no hope for him.

Hidden behind trees in the countryside was Uncle Jesse’s cabin. Upon seeing the home Daryl was mesmerized. The sun danced between the trees and on to the house creating abstract art upon it that would change with the wind. The house looked as old and worn. It had been passed down generation to generation for as long as his descendants had lived in Georgia. The wrap around porch had a swinging bench that looked like it had seen better days. The chain was rusted to the point that Daryl was surprised it was still hanging. The bords of the stairs howled in protest under his weight. The faded red paint on the door was chipping off leaving a mess that would need to be swept. For now, Daryl brushed them out to the side with his boot. The door creaked as he opened it. Already Daryl wasn’t looking forward to the number of things that needed to be replaced and fixed. The house is an open concept with windows bringing in lots of natural light. To his left is the dining room table with 3 chairs. Behind it is the kitchen. To his right is an old blue couch facing towards him with a small tv in front of it. Inbetween the living room and dining room/kitchen is a hallway that leads to the rest of the house. The first down on the right goes upstairs into the attic which was turned into a library. After the stairs are the bathroom and two bedrooms. All of this was more than enough for Daryl.

He planned on moving his few items from his trailer into here and to live in the cabin instead. The trailer could be parked beside the home and be a place for Merle after he serves his time. That a way Daryl could keep his eye on Merle and not have the headache of living with him.

As he stepped out of the house, he felt as if someone was watching him. He carefully scanned the tree line and noticed the magnificent creature. Partly hiding behind one of the trees was a gorgeous wolf. His coat was a mix of light brown, black, and white. What struck Daryl the most was his eyes. They were a bright piercing blue. Daryl knew a thing or two about wolves and he had never heard of a wolf with blue eyes. Wolves' eyes are typically beautiful dark brown. In some weird way, he felt like he knew the wolf. Like he had seen him before. After a moment, the wolf turned around and walked back into the forest leaving Daryl in his thoughts.

Chapter Text

The bell over the door jingled happily as Daryl entered the brightly lit diner. It had been a little over 2 months since he had eaten here. He had missed it dearly but he didn’t have the funds to visit. He had been sending all his extra money to Merle so he could buy whatever it was he needed while he was stuck in that hell hole.

In the booth farthest from the door was an old trucker quietly drinking his coffee and reading the paper. Daryl was relieved that the morning crowd hadn’t shown up yet. Daryl typically came to the diner at the ass crack of dawn to avoid them. Daryl took his unofficial seat at the bar.

“Jeez, what does a man gotta do to get some coffee around here?” He jokingly called out. He heard a gasp from the kitchen. A moment later Rosita was peeking her head out from the doorway behind the bar.

“Well if it isn’t my favorite customer!” She said. Her hair was in a messy bun and her apron was covered in grease stains.

“Hey, Rosie.” He replied with a wave.

“Same as always?” She asked going back to her station.

“O’course.” He always got black coffee with hashbrowns, and an egg, sausage, and cheese breakfast sandwich. The very thought of how greasy the delicious food was made his stomach ache. “Where’s Mags?”

The diner gals had a special place in his heart. The first time he met Rosita was when he and Merle came in hungover a year ago. Merle had tried ‘sweet talking’ her, in other words, he sexually harassed her until she finally had enough and decked him right in the face. It was one of the most amazing things he had ever seen in his life. Every time he thinks about it he laughs so hard that he cries.

He had actually met Maggie first which was about 3 years ago. He had been driving to work and saw her under the hood of her car. He had stopped and asked her if she needed help.

“What seems to be the problem, Ma’am?” He asked shyly. She looked conflicted to talk to a stranger on the side of the road. He didn’t blame her. “I’m a mechanic over at Dale’s Auto Shop. I could take a look at it for you. See if its a quick fix or if I need to call in a tow.”

She relaxed a bit. “Well about two days ago I started hearing a squeaking noise then this morning I had trouble starting the car. I stopped the car here ‘cause I heard a pop and was afraid it’d blow up or something.” She joked.

Daryl grunted in reply. That could be a lot of things. “When was the last time you changed your spark plugs?”

“Oh, daddy got one of those fancy ones that last a lifetime.” She said proudly.

He squinted. “That’s just a marketing technique. Modern spark plugs do last longer than the older models but you’ll still need to get them changed at the 80,000-mile marker. Have you hit that yet?”

She paled. “Uh- I think I’m coming up on 100,000 miles.” Daryl sighed and called Dale asking for a truck to come to get the woman’s car.

“Alright, so I’ll stay with you ‘til your car gets towed then I’ll follow you back to the auto shop and repair it.” She thanked him and told him that after work he should come by the diner she worked at and she would give him a coffee free of charge. He, of course, refused the offer but the woman persisted. Her stubbornness was as bad as Merle’s. That night he stopped by and drank his free coffee. They talked and he found out her name was Maggie, and that she was working here while she was getting an agricultural business degree. She ended up becoming one of his first real friends.

“Daryl Dixon, where on Earth have you been?” Maggie asked playfully. She came around the bar and gave him a tight hug letting him know she had been worried. She pulled back and jokingly punched his shoulder saying, “You were supposed to be here to let me gush to you about how Glenn and I are finally official.”

A little over a year ago, Daryl came into the diner and Maggie immediately cornered him forcing him to listen to her talk about the cute Asian boy who delivered pizza to her the night before. For months, he listened to her rave about how adorable and frustratingly oblivious Glenn was to her advances. They reminded him of the corny romance movie couples that were hopelessly in love but didn’t know how to act on their feelings.

Daryl had never been in a relationship before so listening to Maggie talk was very foreign to him. If he was honest, he was a little jealous. Maggie and Glenn were both so young to have found love and Daryl was in his early 40’s and never even had a boyfriend. Not that it was ever much of an option if he did fall in love. Being gay in Georgia was a death wish. He didn’t understand how Aaron and Eric or Tara and her fiancee were so comfortable with themselves.

“So what has kept you away from us, Dar?” Rosita asks as she sets down Daryl’s steaming plate and coffee.

“Funds have been low, but I should be able to visit more often.” He pauses taking a sip of his bland black coffee. “My Uncle Jesse’s smoking finally caught up to him so now I got me a house and a bit of change.”

“I’m sorry, Daryl.” Maggie frowned rubbing his shoulder. It was weird having people pity him over the death of a man he hardly knew. Before he could respond the door chimed.

“Rosita, my love, how are you this fine morning?” a familiar voice called. Rosie smiled and shook her head at her friend's antics.

“Doing better now that you’re here, honey.” Officer Chambler leaned over the counter to give Rosie a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, Tara, you keep flirting and I’ll tell Denise you’re gonna be late getting home.” Rosie winked. Rosita is bi and in a secret polyamorous relationship with Abraham Ford, a real pain in the ass if you as Daryl but an overall good man, and Sasha Williams, a real firecracker which is ironic considering she’s a firefighter. Even though the relationship isn’t monogamous, they agreed to be exclusive to each other. Tara and Rosita’s partners all know and don’t mind the two’s flirty nature. They know it's all just fun and games.

Officer Grimes snorts in laughter at the two women then takes a seat one chair up from Daryl.
“Hey, Rick,” Maggie says while pouring some coffee into a mug and passing it to him. “How are you settling in?”

Rick sighs. “As well as I can, I guess. I’ve been out of the hospital for 6 and a half months and it's been awful. Honestly, I feel like I’m still in the coma. Nothing that has happened since I woke up feels real. My wife of 16 years is leaving me for my best friend, not to mention Lori is apparently-,” he looked defeated for a moment before composing himself again, “-nevermind. At least Lori’s letting me keep the house, I guess.” He then rubs his face.

“What about work? It’s been about a month since you started work again right?” Maggie asks with a sad but hopeful smile.

“My partner was Shane, Maggie. The man who fucked my wife the moment he thought I was dead.” He says clenching his fist then releasing. “It sucks.”

“Hey, I’m not that annoying, cowboy.” Officer Chambler says trying to lighten the mood. Rick gives her a weak smile.

“Nah, but you make me sick with how much sugar you consume on the daily.” he jokes grimacing. “Jeez, do you want some pancakes with your syrup.”

She flips him the bird which makes Maggie swat at her with a towel.

“If there is any way I can help you let me know. Don’t hesitate to call me. You wouldn’t be burdening me in any way.” Maggie says looking him in the eyes. He nods and looks over to Daryl. Seemingly noticing him for the first time.

“Oh, uh, Mr. Dixon, I didn’t realize it was you. Sorry, you had to hear that.” He said sheepishly.

“It is alright man. I didn’t hear a thing.” Daryl lied even though he knew the man could see right through it.

“So, um, have you been to your Uncle’s cabin yet?” He said trying to change the topic. Gosh, Daryl hated small talk but he loved the sound of Rick Grimes’ voice.

“Yeah, it's pretty much exactly how I remember it as a child. I rarely went over there but when I did I always found it peaceful.” Rick nodded in understanding.

“Oh right! By the way, Maggie, it looks like I’m gonna be your new neighbor.” Daryl says then takes a big bite of his sandwich

“I’m so excited! Now I can just walk over to your house whenever I need to gush about Glenn.” Maggie said while refilling Officer Chambler’s cup.

“Well looks like I’m put’n her on the market now.” Daryl jokes, earning him this own swat with the towel. Rick chuckles.

“Hey, Daryl, it’s 7 a.m. you need to take a hike or you’re gonna be late for work,” Rosita calls from her domain. He checks his phone and sees that she’s correct.

“Shit, well I’ll see y’all around.” He says to Maggie then shoves the last of his hashbrowns in his mouth. “Officers.” he nods to them.

“When we’re off duty you can call us by our first names,” Rick replies with a smile.

“Yeah!” Tara says with her mouth full of pancakes. He nods and leaves. On his way to work, he wonders what Merle would think of him now, being friendly with cops. He kicks himself mentally. He is his own person, he doesn’t need validation from his brother. At least that’s what he tells himself even though he knows he doesn’t quite believe it.
---
“Hey, Daryl,” Dale says from behind the reception desk as Daryl enters the shop. “Why didn’t you tell me your Uncle had died? I wouldn’t have asked you to work last week if I knew!”

Daryl huffs, “Jesse was just another Dixon boy. There’s no need for you to give me any special treatment.”

“Daryl,” Dale scolds, “All life is precious. It doesn’t matter what his last name was and giving you time off to mourn isn’t giving you any special treatment.”

“How’d you find out anyway?”

“Oh, you know, town gossip.” He says avoiding Daryl’s eyes. Daryl eyed him suspiciously but let it go. He put his stuff in his locker and headed out to the garage to greet Aaron.

“Hey,” Daryl said as he pats the man’s back. “What do we have today?”

“Well, the lady from last week is back saying she is hearing a banging noise again.” Daryl rolls his eyes making Aaron laugh.

“There better be something actually wrong with it this time.” For the past 3 weeks, the same middle-aged woman keeps coming in the shop saying something is wrong with her car even though he and Aaron have searched high and low without finding anything wrong.

“You know she does it because she likes having an excuse to see you right? She’s hoping you’ll finally ask her out.” Aaron says with amusement clear in his voice. Daryl cringes and shakes his head. “What? Is she not your type?” He teases.

“Not even close.” He responds while grabbing the chart to see the rest of the vehicles that had been brought in. One car needs a new muffler, another’s AC isn’t working, and the last one needs parts for a new engine to be ordered before he can work on it.

“Well, maybe at my party this Friday you can find someone,” Aaron says nonchalantly. Daryl’s brows frown as he looks over at his friend in confusion.

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“This Friday at 6pm Eric and I are having a party. We have some big news to announce.” Aaron says in excitement. Daryl whines causing Aaron to stick his tongue out. “Oh come on, Dar. This is really important to us. If it makes you feel any better it’s a small gathering, only six other people.” Daryl still looks hesitant so Aaron continues. “And you promised Eric you would bring us some squirrel stew. You don’t want me to tell Eric you’re skipping out on us. I can see his face now. So devastated.” Aaron says dramatically.

He knows Daryl keeps his promises, plus he has a bit of a soft spot for Eric. The man has been a huge help in Daryl’s acceptance of himself. Eric is the only person he has ever told about his sexuality. He never pushes Daryl for any information. He is just so easy to talk to and so understanding that anytime it's just the two of them Daryl spills his guts.

Eric taught him different terms and labels that he could use if any of them fit. Eventually, Daryl settled with gay and demisexual. Eric had calmed Daryl’s anxiety about coming out. He told Daryl that coming out was his choice. He doesn’t ever have to come out if he doesn’t want to, but if he does it would be on his terms. No one is pressuring him. It was as if the storm in his mind had finally stopped and were replaced by double rainbows. The thought makes Daryl snort.

“Alright, I’ll go,” Daryl says sourly. Aaron’s fist pumps the air making Daryl crack a smile. “But don’t expect me to be nice.”

“You can bitch and moan all you want, Daryl, just don’t eat all the apple pie like last time,” he jokes.
---

Sweat drips down from Daryl’s brow. He has been hunting for a good two hours and his arms are starting to get tired. He’s only caught 2 squirrels though. He needs one more of the little tree ninjas before he can go home. It doesn’t typically take him this long to catch the bastards but he is out of practice. Not to mention, it seems like something keeps scaring them off. It had taken him 30 minutes of hunting to notice the alarming amount of paw prints in the mud. He could tell by the size that they were made by wolves, likely a pack. One set was fresher than the others though. He felt like he was being hunted.

This time he heard the snaps of twigs behind him. He quickly turns around with his bow raised. It was the same wolf from before. Cradled in his mouth is a dead squirrel. Daryl froze as they maintained eye contact. He has never been this close to a wolf before. ‘Was he supposed to look away? Was he not?’ his mind raced.

The massive beast slowly started making its way towards the hunter. Daryl readjusted his bow, ready to defend himself if necessary, which caused the creature to stop. It placed the squirrel on the ground gently then stepped back a few feet as if it was giving Daryl space. Daryl blinked rapidly.

‘Was this a dream?’ he thought. The creature then nudged the air with his nose as if to say ‘take it. It’s a gift for you.’ When Daryl finally got his legs to work again, he took a few careful steps towards the squirrel and picked it up. The wolf then nodded and walked back into the thick brush. Daryl couldn’t believe what he just witnessed.

Chapter Text

As he walked up to Aaron and Eric’s house, Daryl could hear chipper voices from inside. He had visited his friends many times before, especially after Merle got locked up, but for some reason, it never got easier. The neighborhood was very fancy and domestic. Big white houses for people with wealth and kids. It was no place for a Dixon boy.

He and Aaron had been working together for a little more than a year when Aaron invited him over to meet his boyfriend. Aaron said that Eric was tired of hearing about Daryl, and wanted to meet him in person. All of Daryl’s instincts screamed at him to say ‘hell no,’. His daddy had worked damn hard to ingrain the idea that he wasn’t to be associated with faggots more then he had to be. He hated that after all this time, his father’s voice in his head was as loud as ever. Aaron was a good man who didn’t deserve the bullshit that was thrown at him for who he is. Daryl’s never been one to label relationships, but Aaron was his best friend. He knew that meeting Eric was important to Aaron, and he didn’t want to disappoint his friend, so he reluctantly said yes.

When Daryl had pulled up to the neighborhood, he thought he had made a huge mistake, but Aaron had been taking out the trash and saw him before he could go back home and make up some excuse not to come. He had known what Eric looked like from the pictures Aaron had occasionally shown him, but he was still surprised by the man’s height. Eric was taller than he had originally thought, and his smile was warmer and more inviting than any of the pictures could capture.

Right away, Eric had seen how uncomfortable Daryl was in such a big house, so he offered to have them eat outside on the picnic table they had in the backyard. Daryl didn’t want to burden the man so he shyly declined.

“It’s alright, Aaron and I don’t exactly fit in here either,” Eric said with a sad smile.

“Cause you’re quee- gay, I mean?” Daryl asked embarrassed. Eric pretended not to notice Daryl’s slip up.

"Yeah," Eric sighed, lightly scratching his forearm, "People suck but some people suck less than others. You’re one of those people, Daryl.” Daryl snorted and smiled.

“Gee, thanks.” He said sarcastically.

“I hope you know that you are always welcome here, Daryl. You were one of the first people Aaron met when we moved here. People were extremely-” he pauses, his jaw clenches as if he was trying to keep himself from cursing, “rude to us, but you, you treated him like he was just another person and it means a lot to him. Thank you. I’m glad he has you as a friend.”

Daryl looked down at his boots and allowed his hair to cover his eyes. “He is good people an’ not a lot of people are like you said.”

“Do you do hugs? It’s okay if you don’t.” Eric asked sweetly. Daryl hesitated, but he let Eric wrap his small arms around him. Daryl held on to Eric as if he was afraid of breaking him. It was strange but no less comforting. Daryl couldn’t remember the last time he was hugged.

“Hey, he’s my boyfriend, get your own!” Aaron joked as he pulled Eric into his arms. Eric gave him a kiss on the cheek. Daryl watched them with fondness. He had never seen such pure love. He can’t remember his parents ever acting like this, it made his heart hurt a little.

As they ate the delicious spaghetti Eric had made, the couple didn’t pressure Daryl to talk, which he was grateful for. At one point though, Eric asked Aaron if he had asked Daryl about ‘it’ yet. Daryl shifted his eyes between the two.

“Ask me what?” He said suspiciously, wiping some sauce from the corner of his mouth with his hand.

Aaron stopped eating, looking Daryl directly in the eyes, he said, “To see if you wanted to have a threesome.” Eric immediately looked petrified.

“That is not true! Damn it, Aaron!” He shrieked, slapping his boyfriend with his napkin. His red face matched Daryl’s. Aaron laughed as if he thought it was the funniest thing in the world. Eventually, Daryl and Eric chuckled along with him.

After they had all calmed down and wiped the tears from their eyes, Eric said, “What we actually wanted to ask you was if you could take a look at this motorcycle we’ve got in the garage. Aaron is a good mechanic, but he doesn’t have much expertise when it comes to vehicles with two wheels.”

“I tried to fix it myself but I think I just made it worse,” Aaron said as he ran his hand through his hair. Eric shook his head but smiled knowingly. It took Daryl a year to finish the bike. It would have been shorter if he hadn't been distracted talking with Aaron or Eric while he was working, he enjoyed their company. Aaron would ask him about his hunting and fishing, and Eric would bring out beer. They would just sit and talk for hours about nothing and everything. It was so much better than listening to Merle’s trash talk.

Though now he kinda misses it, not the garbage that spewed from the redneck’s mouth, but his general presence. Daryl’s world was consumed by taking care of Merle and the man was always running his mouth. Even in his sleep was he annoying Daryl with his obnoxious snoring, there was never a quiet moment, but now it’s as if the whole world is silent. The silence makes the voices louder and the days longer.

A week or two after, Merle had been locked up again, Daryl had gone out to the parking lot for a smoke break. The demon’s that plagued him reminded him how it was his fault his brother was gone. He should have done more to help Merle, he could have got him into Narcotics Anonymous, or took over the man’s finances so he couldn’t buy the drugs without Daryl knowing, and putting a stop to it. Merle needed him whether or not the man registered it through his thick skull. Daryl knew this, but had still failed his brother.

Daryl was so consumed by his thoughts that he didn’t even realize he had put out his cig on his hand until Aaron was face to face with him. The look on his best friend’s face would haunt him forever, it was as if he had burned Aaron instead of himself. Aaron awkwardly told him about his past with depression and self-harm.

When he was a teen he would use razors to feel something. He showed Daryl the tiny thin scars that littered his arm. Aaron’s parents had been extremest when it came to religion. He had thought it was better to be dead than to be gay, so he would punish himself with pain. It took years to get psychological help. Eric, before the two started dating, had actually convinced him to go. Over time the two fell in love. It had taken Aaron four years of therapy to finally get to a point where he was comfortable enough to be himself. Eric had waited patiently those long years and in the end it paid off. Aaron explained that the urges and the depression will always be there but it does get better. Aaron was coming up on being nine months clean at that point. The talk had been painfully awkward, but Daryl was thankful for Aaron’s willingness to be vulnerable with him.

After that conversation, Daryl practically moved in with the couple for a month. They understood that Daryl needed to feel useful and that he needed a purpose, so they always made sure that there was something for Daryl to do: garden, fix a squeaky door,or talk with Eric while he made dinner. Hell, one time Eric purposefully broke the sink so Daryl wouldn’t sit at home alone with his thoughts.

They understood Daryl, and went out of their way to make sure he knew he was valued. He had never been good at making friends or expressing his emotions but the two men knew that and never asked for a thank you because they knew it without verbal communication. Daryl showed it through action, by bring them whatever animal he had captured and sharing it with them.

Oh, the look on Eric’s face the first time he brought a skinned deer over, Daryl thought the man was going to throw up. Eric made him promise that next time he would just bring over the meat instead of the whole carcass. Though the next day, Aaron came into the shop and laughed his ass off as he told Daryl that his neighbors had left a complaint on their door. He told Daryl to forget what Eric said and to skin the deer at their place anytime he wanted just so that he could piss off his neighbors more.

The memories of his first visit calmed him. Daryl took a deep breath and pounded on the door. Eric grinned at Daryl and pulled him into a tight hug. Then held him at arm's length saying,

“Daryl! I’m so glad you could join us. Oh, and you brought your famous squirrel stew.”

Daryl shyly smiled back. He walked in and placed the pot on the table next to the array of other foods. There was green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, corn, and apple pie, among other things. It looked like the Thanksgiving dinners he would see in TV shows.

In the living room, he saw Tara and Jesus debating about some tv show he had never heard of. He met Jesus a few times, he was Maggie’s best friend. He teaches self-defense classes and children’s karate class at a studio in the town over. Daryl’s never really held a conversation with him, but he figures he’s not a bad guy. Sitting on the couch was Maggie and two people he didn’t recognize.

“Where’s Aaron?”

“Oh, he’s a little preoccupied at the moment, but he will be out shortly,” Eric said as he opened the door for another guest. “Oh, Rick, I’m glad you could make it! Here, I’ll take your coat.” He said as he disappeared into another room leaving both Daryl and Rick standing awkwardly by the door.

“Hey, Daryl,” Rick said offering his hand. Daryl’s hand molded into Rick’s. His hands were callused like Daryl’s, only slightly softer. The hunter grunted in reply.

“Okay, everyone! So you all are probably wondering why Aaron and I have asked you here. We wanted to say thank you for all your love and support over the years. It was very challenging moving here from Virginia. We have faced lots of difficulties but each of you has taken a bit of our burned away.”

“Denise,” he continued, “you were the first person we met when we moved into the neighborhood. You greeted us with compassion, unlike the others.” The girl, Denise, fidgets nervously at being complimented. Tara holds her hand and kisses her cheek. Eric continues,

“Tara, you are always the life of the party and bring laughter wherever you go. And Paul, you once told me that if anyone was giving us any trouble you would beat them up.” Everyone chuckled at that. “You have been great emotional support for us. Maggie, I have you to thank for most of my recipes. You really spice up my life with all your stories.” The woman groans at the pun. “Sorry, Glenn, I don’t know you well enough to say much.” Glenn waves him off.

“Rick, you,” he pauses, his voice thick with emotion, “When our house was vandalized you were professional but showed us compassion unlike some of the other officers. I’ll never forget you telling off Shane. It meant a lot to me and since then you have been a wonderful friend.” Rick walked over to Eric and gave him a pat on the shoulder. Daryl cringed at the thought of being complemented next.

“Last but not least, Daryl,” Eric grinned.

“Don’t go get’n all teary-eyed on me, man.” Daryl jokes.

“You have made so much progress since I first met you. I’m so proud of the man you have become. Your loyalty is so strong that it's almost a defect, I had never met a man who is as selfless as you, Daryl.” Eric says with tears in his eyes.

Aaron then walks out of the hallway holding a small baby wrapped up in a pink cloud print blanket. “Which is why we have decided we would like you to be Gracie’s godfather.”

Everyone is speechless. Aaron walks over to Daryl and gently passes the baby to him. Daryl looks at her as if she is the most precious thing in the world and starts cooing at her.

“Hi, Gracie,” he says. Aaron and Eric hold each other as everyone crowds around Daryl to see the little girl. “Are you sure you want me to be the godfather?” Daryl asks looking up at the two new fathers.

“Yeah, Daryl, it was a pretty easy decision. We know that you would love her as if she were your own if something was to happen to us.” Eric said. Daryl quickly wipes away a tear and smiles back down at Gracie. In his arms she seems so soft and delicate, Daryl’s never held something more carefully in his life. The intense love he has for her already makes his head spin. He always wanted kids but never thought he would have one. Now he gets to be a godfather and it’s the greatest feeling in the world.

Daryl sees Rick leave through the front door out to the corner of his eye. After a moment more, he passes the little ball of sunshine over to Maggie and goes to follow the officer. When he steps on to the porch, he sees Rick sitting on the bench with his head in his hands.

The hunter doesn’t know what to do. He opens his mouth but quickly shuts it again with a frown. He slowly closes the space between himself and Rick by putting his hand on Rick’s shaking shoulder. The man jumps. His eyes are red and puffy, tear streaks paint his cheeks. Rick quickly wipes his face with his sleeve and clears his throat,

“Daryl, I, uh, was just, taking a breather.”

Daryl’s jaw sets and he looks at Rick unsure of himself. Daryl carefully takes a seat next to Rick, as if he’s afraid of scaring the man again, then in a rough voice says, “I ain’t ever been to a,” he thinks for a moment, “baby shower? But I know people don’t typically run out when the baby is brought out.”

Rick looks down at his hands and rubs them together in guilt. Daryl continues, “I know it ain’t none of my business, but if you got something you need to say then you best say it.”

Rick glances at Daryl from the corner of his eye hesitantly then swallows. With a ragged breath, he whispers, “Lori is pregnant.”

Daryl’s mind goes blank. Then ‘Holy shit,’ he thinks. He roughly rubs his face with his hands and through his hair, letting the information sink in. He can’t imagine the pain Rick’s going through.

“How far along is she?”

Rick sighs and leans back against the bench, “Eight months give or take. She only told me a couple of months ago.”

That means she had to have been pregnant before Rick was in the coma. Either the baby is Rick’s or Shane is a bigger asshole than the thought. Daryl’s nails dig into his palms. Shane better start praying to every god he can think of that he never runs into Daryl. Thoughts raced through his head, ‘How long had Rick’s best friend and his wife been screwing with each other behind Rick’s back?’ and ‘How was the baby going to be raised?’

“Is it yours?” Daryl asked hesitantly.

A tear silently rolled down Rick’s cheekbone to the side of his jaw. Daryl had never wanted to hug someone so badly before.

“I don’t know,” his voice cracking at the end. Daryl slung his arm around Rick and pulled him to his chest. Rick buried his face into the side of Daryl’s neck and held on to Daryl’s waist. The angle was awkward but neither minded. Daryl ran his thumb up and down the back of Rick’s neck.

They stayed like that until Rick’s breathing evened out. Daryl reluctantly let the man go. Rick then stretched, trying to soothe his aching back. The bottom of his shirt lifted up just enough for Daryl to see the outline of Rick’s lower stomach and boxers in the moonlight. Daryl gulped and averted his eyes. He mentally scolded himself for being so insensitive.

“Hey, Daryl?” Rick said while rubbing his arm, “uh, thank you. I’m sorry that I got your shirt wet.” Daryl hadn’t even noticed the damp spot on his collar.

“It ain’t a problem, man. I’m sorry your wife’s a bitch.”

Rick let out a startled laugh and a disbelieving smile. Daryl tilted his head slightly. He hadn’t thought he had said anything funny.

“Sorry, it’s just, no one’s taken my side, let alone called Lori a-” he paused, “-a bitch. She has the whole town convinced that what she had done with Shane was a moment of weakness and that it stemmed from her grieving me. They say that the situation was understandable and that I should accept both of their apologies.”

Daryl’s mouth hung open. “Are you shit’n me?”

Rick shook his head, “I tried to forgive them. I really did but when I had found out about the pregnancy test and how far along she was I just couldn’t. Hell, I even found papers filing for divorce in her sock drawer.”

“You don’t gotta explain yourself to me, Rick.” Daryl said patting Rick’s knee, “You’re a better man than me. If my husband had cheated on me with my brother, he would be ten feet under.”

Rick smiled slightly. “I hope not, I’d hate to have to charge you for murder.”

Daryl scoffed, “You only get charged if ya get caught.”

Rick chuckled. The two then sat in silence listening to the world around them. The moon seemed to hypnotize Rick with her beauty. The man seemed at peace as he watched her in all her glory, it made Daryl smile. They could hear the muffled voices of their friends laughing inside. The air was crisp, the hair on Rick’s arm stood up and he rubbed them in a failed attempt to warm up.

“Here,” Daryl said as he pulls off his blue plaid flannel and holds it out to Rick.

“Oh, no, I’m fine, really.” He says, but his body betrays him as he shivers at the slight wind. Daryl throws the shirt at Rick hitting him in the face making Daryl chuckle.

Rick glares at him. “Won’t you be cold? You’re not wearing any sleeves.”

“Nah, I usually rip off the sleeves of my shirts anyway,” Daryl said waving him off.

“Oh, I see, you just wanted to show off your muscles,” Rick replied with a wink.

Daryl’s eyes widened and he stuttered, “What, no! I just saw that you were cold and-”

“I’m just teasing you, Darlin’,” Rick said, his sweet southern accent coming out thicker than usual. Daryl’s mind almost short-circuited. He brought his thumb up to his mouth and started chewing on at the skin.

Rick reached over and gently pulled Daryl’s hand from his face and onto his lap. The whole thing felt oddly intimate which only made Daryl want to bite his skin more. Instead, he tore off a piece of his lip.

“Are you gonna make me pull your lip out of your mouth too?”

Daryl quickly stopped at stared at Rick, who was smiling at him knowingly. Daryl huffed at the man’s antics.

“What are y’all doing out here? We’ve got food inside!” Eric called from the doorway.

“After you,” Rick said holding open the door for Daryl. He could help but roll his eyes. It was much warmer inside. The drastic change made Daryl’s fingers feel numb. Rick took a seat at the table next to Maggie. The only other empty seat was the one in front of the officer so Daryl started to make his way over when Eric tapped his shoulder,

“Hey, can we talk in the hall for a moment?” Daryl nodded.

“Is everything okay with you and Rick?” Eric asked, looking up at Daryl with his big eyes.

“O’course. Why?”

“Well, I saw him step out and you two stayed out there a good thirty minutes.”

Daryl looked down at his hands guilty. “Sorry, we were just talk’n.”

Eric looked at him skeptically. “Talking. I’ve known you for almost five years now, Daryl, and I’ve never known you to be a ‘talker’.”

“It was nothing, seriously,” Daryl said as he replayed their conversation in his head. He froze suddenly. “Holy shit…” he whispered.

Eric immediately became a mother hen. “What! What happened? Do I need to kill somebody? I’ll kill somebody. I mean, I’d probably freak out but if someone is hurting you, Daryl-”

“What? No, can it cupcake, no one is giving me any problems.” He said looking at Eric as if he had three heads. “And you killin’ someone? Please.”

“Psh, I could do it if it was to protect my family.” He said defensively. Daryl shook his head.

“I- I think I accidentally came out to Rick,” Daryl said nervously.

Eric blinked rapidly and his brows frowned. “You think you accidentally came out to Rick?”

Daryl nodded.

“Is that okay?” Eric asked concerned.

“I don’t know. I mean, it just felt natural. I didn’t even think about it.” Daryl looked unsure at Eric who gave him a smile.

“Maybe that means you’ve accepted yourself subconsciously. I think that’s a good thing.” He said putting Daryl’s shoulder. Daryl let out a deep breath.

“I think so too.”

The men then join the others at the table. They both grabbed a hefty plate and sat down. There are cards spread out over the table.

“What the fudge balls, baby! How do you keep winning?” Tara asked throwing her hands up in the air in defeat. “I was thiiiiis close to winning. You have to be cheating!” Denise rolls her eyes and starts shuffling the cards.

“That makes three wins for Denise, two for Jesus, and one for Eric,” Glenn said counting up the score. They deal the cards and continue playing spoons. Many swears later, Denise wins the most games by a long shot. Poor Glenn’s hand is all scratched up from Maggie’s nails digging into him when she tried grabbing the same spoon he wanted. Tara and Jesus aren’t even speaking to each other anymore because Tara swears the ninja is cheating.

“Those two become children around each other, I swear,” Rick says shaking his head at Tara flipping Jesus the bird as everyone started heading to their cars. Daryl grunts in reply.

“I’ll see ya around, Darlin’,” Rick said with a wink. Daryl waves and drives off into the night.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t even lunchtime yet and Daryl was ready to shoot someone, well, not anyone just Shannon May.

“For the fiftieth time, woman, your car ain’t broke. Stop wasting my time!” He growled. Shannon, as she insisted he call her, was the same lady who for the past three weeks had been annoying Aaron and Daryl. No matter how many times the two told her that the only thing wrong here was her brain she wouldn’t stop coming in. Her crush on Daryl was taking time away from his work and he just wanted some peace and quiet. Aaron had taken the rest of the week off to be with Eric and Gracie so Daryl was left alone to deal with Shannon.

“Oh, come on, Daryl, we both know the real reason why I’m here. Just ask me already.” She purred, batting her eyelashes. Daryl visibly cringed.

“Never gonna happen, lady. Please just take your car and leave.” He said trying to be nice.

“Why won’t you even try to go out with me? I’m fun, I’m loyal, I’m ready for commitment.” Daryl had never been more uncomfortable in his life.

“I’m not looking for anything serious right now.”

“That’s fine, we don’t have to be serious then.” She replied biting her lip. He could feel vile in his throat.

“No! I’m not dating you and I’m certainly not going to sleep with you.” He said, his voice getting louder the angrier he got.

“Give me one good reason why!” She persisted, walking closer to him.

“No!” He yelled.

“Why?” She yelled back getting into his space.

“Because I’m gay!” He screamed, his whole body shaking in pure rage. Her eyes got wide and he stopped dead in her tracks.

“You-you’re a queer?” She whispered, not quite believing him. “No, a man like you isn’t gay. You’re just lying to me.” Nevermind what he said before, this was now the most uncomfortable he’s ever been in his life. He just wants to crawl into a hole and die.

“Hey, babe,” Rick’s familiar rough voice called, “You left your shirt at my place last night.” He waved the long sleeve blue shirt that he had left at Aaron’s around, then pulled Daryl close and kissed his cheek. Daryl was dumbfounded.

“Wha-,” he started to say but was cut off by a shrill voice.

“You are a queer! I knew you spent too much time around Aaron, now he’s turned you into-,” she waved her hands between the two men, “into this!”

“Ma’am, I’m officer Rick Grimes and it seems to me like you are disturbing the peace, and if Daryl or Dale has told you to get off the property multiple times, then I could charge you with trespassing,” The woman paled. “But I’m a nice guy so I’ll let you off with a warning if you promise to take your business elsewhere. I suggest you leave before my charitable mood comes to an end.”

Shannon quickly fled and Daryl breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you,” Daryl said patting Rick’s stomach. He then realized how close the two still were. He was pressed up against Rick, hip to hip. He could feel Rick’s body heat through his jeans and T-shirt. He quickly pulled away, his face ablaze, and his heart began beating sporadically.

“I like your mole?” Rick said, but it sounded more like a question.

“What?” Daryl asked while chuckling, “Who compliments someone on their mole?”

“What do you mean? It’s cute.” Rick said in defense.

“Psh,” Daryl says shaking his head.

“Are you serious? Look at Marilyn Monroe and Madonna!”

“Are you really comparing my ugly mug to Madonna?”

“What is there to compare when your beauty is the same?” Daryl glared in disbelief at the officer. He tried searching the man’s eyes for signs of sarcasm but found none. It shook him to his core. He opened his mouth to respond but no words came out so, instead, like any normal person, he decided to punch Rick in the arm.

“Ow, why?” Rick whined, rubbing his arm, “Ugh, I bruise easily.”

“Can’t be sayin’ shit like that. People will talk, especially since you’re a cop.”

“So? You think I care about what this shit hole of a town thinks of me? Better they hate me for who I am than love me for who I’m not, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I like men, Daryl.” He said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“But Lori!”

“Ya never heard of bisexual?” Daryl had, of course, Eric and Rosita identified as bi, but he hadn’t connected the dots when it came to Rick.

“Well, I hope you’re happy, cause now the whole town is gonna think we’re shackin,” Daryl huffed.

Rick snorted in response, “It’ll be a huge compliment for people to think I could get a man like Daryl Dixon.”

“Oh my- just, shut up,” Daryl said as he pushed Rick to the side almost making the man trip. Rick laughed with his belly. Daryl rolled his eyes and walked back over to the engine he was working on before his life went to shit. After Rick calmed down he said,

“I wasn’t here only to return the shirt.” Daryl looked up at him with a raised brow, Rick continued, “I wanted to see if you’d have lunch with me as a thank you for, well, everything,” he paused, “oh, and the check would be on me.”

Daryl gulped. It sounded oddly like a date. “Okay,” he said, his voice was scruffy.

Daryl then popped his head into Dale’s office and told him he was taking his lunch break and would be back in an hour. As Daryl hopped into the passenger’s side of the patrol car he joked,

“I always knew I’d end up in a cop car, just never thought I’d be up front. Merle would have a stroke if he saw me now.”

“You keep talking about this Merle guy, who is he?” Rick asked.

“He’s my brother,” Daryl said, his voice sounded far away. Rick glanced at him.

“You don’t have to talk about him if you don’t want to.”

“I know I don’t,” Daryl said shifting in his seat, “but I want to.” Daryl waited until the two had arrived at the diner and sat down in one of the corner booths to continue. The diner had about six people in total, enough that their voices would be drowned out so others couldn’t listen in.

“He’s the only family I got left,” Rick looked at him in confusion for a moment then remembered their earlier conversation and nodded for Daryl to continue. “He got his dumb ass stuck in prison again about four years ago for dealing.”

“How long he got left?”

“Three and a half if he’s good.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, it ain’t his first time.”

“Maybe not but that doesn’t make the pain go away,” Rick said putting his hand over Daryl’s. “I have a younger brother, Jeff. When we were teens he was real rebellious. He started out with smaller stuff like trespassing on school property to smoke weed, then it just got worse and worse. Cause he was still young they put him in juvie, but when he was eighteen he was caught doing acid in the club.”

“Jeeze, Rick,”

“He was incarcerated for sixteen months. When he got out he had changed, and I’m not just talking a thick beard, I mean the look in his eyes, man. It was like I didn’t know him.” Rick said his voice cracking a bit. Daryl rubbed his knuckles with his thumb.

“After being out for about a week, I had caught him one night staring up at the stars. It was like he was hypnotized. The look of wonder on his face reminded me of when he was a kid. I felt like maybe he was coming back to us, to me, but one night I woke up cause I had ta piss and I heard shuffling from the garage.”

“I went in there with a little ol’ kitchen knife,” he said with a sad smile, “thinking someone was breaking in, but it was Jeff. He was grabbing his old camping gear. I asked what he was doing so late at night and he just stared at me. Then he walked over to me and whispered,

“Ricky, I gotta go.”

“I was stunned, I asked him, ‘what do ya mean?”

“He pulled his bag over his shoulder and said, ‘I don’t belong here, I never have. I had always been your shadow. Mom and Dad, I don’t think they ever realized it, but they favored you. I can’t stay here no more, not with the way they keep lookin’ at me. I gotta go. Please, Ricky, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine, I promise, I just gotta find my people, my home.” Rick’s eyes prickled with tears.

“I didn’t understand what he meant. For years, I wondered why he didn’t consider me part of his people, but I loved him and I wanted him to finally be happy, so I let him go. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make, but I think I did the right thing. Sometimes, love isn’t enough to keep a man together. I honestly think that if I didn’t let him go he would be dead by now. Either at his own hand or someone else's.”

“Where’s he now? Is he clean?” Daryl asked.

“Don’t know. I think he went over towards Cali, but that night was the last time anyone ever heard from him,” Rick said looking down at their intertwined hands, “Every year, on June 3rd, the day he left, a rock shows up in my mailbox. Each one is different, the first one I got was a plain old igneous rock, but over the years I got cooler lookin’ ones. The year Carl, my son, was born a purple one with lighter purple swirls in it was delivered. Since then, it’s become Carl’s favorite. I think they are from Jeff, they have to be. I think it’s his way of letting me know he kept his promise.”

“That’s why Lori is letting me keep the house. She doesn’t want to take Jeff away from me,” he chuckled, “it was actually Jeff that accidentally set me and Lori up. They were friends and one night he had a party at our house when our parents weren’t home and Lori showed up. I think he might have liked her.” He trailed off at the end.

“Well, I’m glad Lori ain’t as big of a bitch as I thought,” Daryl said, giving Rick one final pat on the hand before pulling back.

“Basically, what I’m trying to say is I understand the fear of looking out for your brother. Not knowing if he’s hurt or sick or just plain bored to death. If you need someone to talk to you can call me.” He then wrote his number on a napkin and handed it to Daryl.

“Thanks, man. Same to you.”

The corners of Rick’s lips perked up, “You’ve listened to me rant more than enough already, Daryl.” The hunter rolled his eyes and stretched his legs out, brushing Rick’s.

“Afternoon, boys, what can I get ya?” Andrea asked, her hair was a bit of a mess and her mascara was clumpy.

“I thought Maggie’s shift didn’t end till two?” Daryl asked.

“Normally,” Andera sighed, “but she called in sick so I’ve been working for almost 12 hours now, might as well call me the walking dead.”

“Here, let me buy you a coffee,” Rick offered.

“Oh, no, Rick, I’m fine really.”

“Well, I’m ordering it and you’re drinking it,” He said stubbornly. She shook her head.

“I chose the wrong Deputy,” she joked, Rick laughed, “anything else?”

“I’ll take a cheeseburger and the seasoned curly fries with a sweet tea, please,” He said.

“The same,” Daryl said, Andrea smirked. As she walked away, Daryl asked, “What was that about?”

“What was what about?”

Daryl nudged his shin, “The ‘I choose the wrong Deputy’ thing,” he asked in a high pitched voice.

Rick frowned at him, “She had an on and off thing with Shane for a while. They were ‘on’ when he slept with Lori.”

“Oh, sorry,” he said, feeling like an ass.

“You’re good, she was just making a joke about our shitty lives.”

“Here you boys go,” Andrea said sitting down their food.

“We didn’t order this,” Rick said motioning towards the slice of peach cobbler.

“It’s on the house,” she said with a shit-eating grin, she then sipped her coffee. Daryl busted out laughing. Oh, he had forgotten how good Andrea was at bending the rules. Her unofficial girlfriend, Michonne, must have her hands full.

“And here are your two spoons, have a nice date,” she said, then scampered off before Daryl could correct her. The two men ate in relative silence, they just enjoyed one another’s company and their damn good burgers.

“Would it bother you to share the cobbler?” Rick asked.

“Nah, man,” Daryl replied grabbing a spoonful.

“Oh, are you gonna feed it to me?” Rick jokes. Just to spite him Daryl stuck his spoon out to Rick and dared him with his mind. Rick took the bite, accepting his challenge. Daryl’s jaw dropped, he didn’t think Rick would actually do it! Rick covered his mouth with his hand as he chuckled at Daryl’s red face.

“Well, now this is your spoon,” Daryl said as he swapped their utensils.

“Darlin, we’re eating from the same piece my cooties are gonna be all over it regardless.”

“Shut up,” he stammered. Rick then tried to take the same peach Daryl was. They battled for it, Daryl managed to scoop it up, but Rick took it from his spoon and quickly rushed it into his mouth, part of the crust landed on his shirt. Daryl swatted Rick’s hand with his spoon.

“Ow,” he said, the spoon still sticking out of his mouth.

“So, Officer Friendly,” Rick raised a brow at the nickname, “did you always know you wanted to be root’n toot’n cowboy?”

“Ah-ha, no actually, I joined the force because Shane was and we did everything together, so it seemed like the logical thing to do,” he said, then licked his spoon clean, “I love my job, really, but it’s stressful and I don’t get to see my kid enough.”

“You said his name was Carl, right?” Daryl asked, taking a bite of the crust.

“Yeah, he’s turning twelve this year. I feel like he’s growing up too fast.”

“That’s what all parents say.”

“Yeah, but not all parents have to miss out on going to their kids 5th grade graduation or have to work on Thanksgiving. I’m afraid that I haven’t been as good of a father as I should have been. I let my work come before my family, maybe that’s why Lori was so ready to leave me at the first chance she got.”

“Hey, I’m gonna need you to listen closely because I’m never gonna repeat it again, you are a damn good father, trust me I know what it’s like to have a father that don’t give two shits. My paw never did nothing for us growing up. All he cared about was two things: his cigs and his beer. So I don’t ever wanna hear you saying dumb shit like that again, got it?”

“I’m sor-”

“No, I don’t need your pity party. I need you to never bring it up again and to stop being so hard on yourself. It’s normal to be worried about not being enough, but I’m telling you, you’re doing just fine,” Daryl sank back into his seat with his arms crossed, “If you’re really that worried learn to say no more often. Take the kid out for ice cream and just talk or something.”

“You’d be a good dad, Daryl.”

“Psh.”

“I’m serious, the way you held Gracie and your advice on raising Carl, you’d be a real catch.” Rick said sincerely. Daryl shifted uncomfortably. “How come you don’t have a man, Daryl?”

“I’ve never really tried. The only people that know I’m gay are you, Eric, and Shannon, though I’m sure the whole town will know by tomorra,” he said groaning, he then sprang up in his seat, “Shit, what if word gets around to Merle?” he asked, panicking. His knee bounced rapidly and he started biting the skin around his thumb.

“Does he have contact with anyone other than you?” Rick asked.

“No.”

“Then he won’t find out unless you tell him,” Rick said, he put his warm palm on Daryl’s knee. Daryl nodded, not looking at Rick and still biting his thumb. Rick huffed and gently shifted Daryl’s face towards him and pulled Daryl’s thumb away from his mouth. “Hey, you’ll be alright. He’s your brother, he’ll love you regardless.”

“You don’t know Merle. The things he used to say… once we were at a bar and this random drunk guy came up to me flirt’n and Merle decked him, he didn’t stop whaling on the guy until the police showed up.” Rick rubbed Daryl’s knee under the table with a frown.

“Maybe you’re right,” Daryl looked up confused, how was that supposed to me comforting? “But that doesn’t mean shit, alright? Does your brother being homophobic make you not gay? No, it just puts a strain on your relationship.”

“Family is more than blood, Darling. It’s a group of people who are there for you no matter what, people who know your flaws and embrace them, people who will learn to accept you even if they don’t understand because they love you. Sometimes, those people are your blood, sometimes they aren’t. Maybe with time Merle will come around.”

Daryl wiped his tear with his thumb and cleared his throat, “Thanks.”

Rick squeezed Daryl’s shoulder as he got up to pay the bill. There was a spark of something inside of Daryl that he hadn’t felt in a while, it was hope. Hope that maybe he could become comfortable enough to tell Merle and be okay with whatever happened after because he would have people there for him regardless of if Merle disowned him or not. He silently thanked his Uncle for all the blessings that had come with his death.

Chapter Text

Two weeks had passed since Daryl had had lunch with Rick at the diner. The two had texted a few times every other day. It was nothing unusual he supposed, but it was still new to him. He had never really used his phone for anything more than making the occasional phone call and for knowing what days he was able to visit Merle.

It had actually been Daryl who had contacted Rick. It was right after work that same day thanking him for the lunch and saying they should hang out again sometime, but his thumb was chewed raw before he finally grew a pair and hit send. Not more than thirty seconds later, Rick had responded saying it was his pleasure and that he would love to.

With his hectic work life, it had been hard for Rick and Daryl to meet up again. It was disappointing but they made it work. Daryl would usually text Rick after work and they would talk about their day. Rick would update him on anything exciting happening at work or tell him about Carl. Rick loved to talk about Carl. He thinks the boy might have a crush on this girl named Sophia.

 

Rick apparently knew her from a domestic abuse case he worked a year back. When Carol, the girl’s mom, finally came forward, Rick had invited them both to dinner as a way to help the two adjust to their new found freedom. Carl and Sophia ran around outside pretending it was the zombie apocalypse while Rick and Lori comforted Carol. Daryl loved to listen to Rick talk about cases with happy endings, especially the ones with kids.

 

Rick offered to introduce him to Carol sometime though Daryl hesitated. He wasn’t normally good with new people, Rick was an exception. He met him in a strange part of both their lives and they just seemed to fit. If they had met at any other time or in any other way Daryl probably would have ignored Rick and Rick probably wouldn’t have acknowledged Daryl, but for some reason, their paths keep crossing and neither fight it.

 

When Daryl felt like talking instead of just listening to Rick, he would often babble on about work or hunting. Lately, he’s had a lot to report. He keeps seeing that wolf from before. The first time was about three days after seeing Rick. He was changing the chain on the porch swing when he saw the blue-eyed beauty watching him from the trees. He made no attempt to come closer or run away after Daryl noticed him. Daryl gave the guy a little nod and to his surprise, the wolf nodded back. Daryl blinked rapidly, ‘Well alright then’.

 

The second time was a week ago when Daryl was grilling himself some hot dogs and corn. Every few minutes, the wolf would get closer and closer to Daryl until he was about five yards away. Daryl rolled his eyes and tossed the wolf three dogs. He watched him chow down in amusement. Rick got a kick out of the story.

 

“Yeah, the little shit wouldn’t leave me alone so I gave in,” Daryl chuckled.

 

“Does he bother you? Like is it annoying?” Rick asked.

 

“Nah, it’s actually kinda exciting wondering when I’ll see him next. He ain’t a normal wolf, I’ll tell ya that.”

 

“Have you named him yet?” Rick teased. Daryl snorted,

 

“He isn’t my pet.”

 

“So? Don’t you get tired of calling him ‘the wolf’?”

 

“Sometimes I call him Blue because of his eyes,” Daryl said embarrassed. He could hear Rick doubled over in laughter thru the phone.

 

Rick has been a good distraction for Daryl since he hasn’t been able to hang out with Aaron and Eric like he usually does. He didn’t want to disturb their bonding time with Gracie. Aaron is supposed to start work back tomorrow but tomorrow couldn’t start soon enough. The auto shop was rather small. The only workers currently were Dale, Aaron, and him. They were looking for another mechanic or at least a new receptionist. The shop was the best in town and reasonably priced and with so few people everyone was wearing thin with the amount of work to be done daily. If it hadn’t been for Gracie he would have killed Aaron for leaving him all this mess.

 

Daryl had just come home from working another long ass shift. He grabbed a beer and his bag of homemade jalapeno pepper deer jerky then walked onto the porch. The sky was painted in shades of pink, orange, and yellow as the sun kissed the sky goodnight. The wind blew slightly making the trees clap in applause at the beautiful art. It made his skin prickle. This was home, nature in its purest form. He felt unworthy of being able to admire mother nature like this. She raised him to respect her and he never failed to.

 

He thanked her for her gifts. When he needed shelter she would provide him with a cave, when he needed a bath she gave him the river, when he needed food she offered her creatures, when he needed peace she sang him to sleep. He smiled to himself and pulled out his phone. He raised the camera up to the sky, even though captured the moment he couldn’t catch the beauty. It was beyond what any photo could capture. He took a bite of his jerky and sent the photo to Rick.

 

From: Officer Friendly

Sent at 6:03- Wow, it’s like Heaven and Earth are colliding.

Sent at 6:04- How was work today? Any better?

 

From: Darlin’

Sent at 6:07- It was alright. Aaron is supposed to start back tomorrow so hopefully, I’ll be able to go hunting soon.

 

From: Officer Friendly

Sent at 6:07- I’ve been dying for some deer jerky so if you make any hmu and I’ll pay you for some.

 

From: Darlin’

Sent at 6:08- Image attachment

 

From: Officer Friendly

Sent at 6:08- I’ll be right over, save some for me!

 

Daryl chuckled and rubbed his face. The day was long and stressful. He was glad the weekend was upon him. He had been up before the rooster cawed. His body ached and his eyes stung.  His body isn’t as young as it used to be. He closed his eyes, taking in the sounds of mother nature.

 

He didn’t dose for long before he felt something wet and cold nudge his hand. He pried his eyes open to see a beautiful wolf about two feet away. He froze on the spot, his heart and mind racing. The wolf sat down and whined at Daryl, eyeing the jerky beside him. ‘This is what I get for feeding you last time,’ Daryl thought, scolding himself.

 

Daryl gulped and tossed the jerky out into the yard as far as he could. Blue immediately ran after it. He stuck his face into the bag and pulled out a piece. He then paused and spit it back out, cringing. He coughed and started rubbing his tongue on the ground. Daryl couldn’t help but laugh, ‘Guess he don’t like spice’. The wolf turned back towards Daryl and trotted over.

 

Daryl backed up as far as he could on the swing. Blue started sniffing Daryl’s clothes and his pockets looking for more food.

 

“No, I don’t have anything else.” The wolf whined again and nudged his leg. “What? What do you want?”

 

The blue-eyed beauty plopped his head down on Daryl lap and gazed up at him. ‘This really ain’t no normal wolfie,’ Daryl thought, ‘Rick’s gonna have a cow hearing about this tomorrow.’ He hesitated but gently set his hand down on Blue’s fur. Blue knocked his head back moving Daryl hand down his neck.

 

“More like a needy dog than a big bad wolf,” Daryl teased. Blue nuzzled his face into Daryl’s stomach making the corners of Dar’s mouth twitch up. He continued to slowly pet the beast. A tiny voice in the back of his head kept screaming at him that Blue was a dangerous beast and that he needed to be alert if the wolf turned on him but he ignored it for now.

 

Maybe he was domesticated? Maybe he was raised as a pup by humans in a rehabilitation shelter and was relocated back into the wild but never forgot his human caretakers. He would ask Rick what he thought tomorrow. Daryl scratched behind his ear and the wolf’s tongue rolled out in happiness. Daryl brought his head down on to Blue’s and stared into his eyes. They looked so unique, like an endless ocean with glaciers drifting off in the distance. Blue then licked Daryl’s nose making him giggle.

 

Around them, the world had gone quiet. The moon had come out in all her glory to greet them. The wolf turned to her and howled. In two days it would be full. Daryl reached into his shirt pocket for his cigs and lighter then took a few drags. Blue turned back to him and scrunched his nose at the smell.

 

“What? A man has needs,” Daryl said defensively. Blue looked unconvinced. Daryl was surprised at how human-like the wolf was with his expressions and mannerisms. Daryl rested his arm on the arm of the swing looking back at the moon. Blue pawed at Daryl’s hand causing the man to drop the cig.

 

“Hey! What the hell man, I thought we were good?” Blue then kicked off into the damp grass. Daryl crossed his arms in protest. Blue whined and nudged Daryl’s arms trying to open them up again. The hunter opened up just enough for Blue’s head to fit in between his arms and chest.

“A damn puppy is what you are,” Daryl accused. Blue huffed at him.

 

When he was younger, Daryl used to volunteer at the animal shelter as a way to distract himself and to avoid his home. He loved to wrestle with the big dogs and bottle feed the tiny kittens. He never minded cleaning their messes or getting dirty. To him, it was part of the fun.

 

His favorite animal was a beautiful Malinois. The shelter never named the dogs but they would number them, he was Seven. Seven was playful but rough. His original owners had dumped him at the foot of the shelter because he was too aggressive to be around small children and he would kill their chickens. The dog wasn’t in the best condition either, he had fleas and small scars all along his back like he had been swat with sticks. He was rather hostile towards the volunteers when he first arrived.

 

After weeks of patience and hard work, Daryl managed to get Seven to trust him. Daryl became attached to him. Whenever Daryl was upset or anxious Seven would lick his face to remind him he wasn’t alone. He was Daryl’s first friend. He would tell him secrets, like his crush on boys at school and his Pop’s abuse. Dogs don’t care about sexuality or how broken you are inside, to them we are perfect.

 

One day Daryl came into volunteer like normal and Nicole, the office lady, took one look at Daryl and burst into tears. Daryl didn’t understand what was wrong.

 

“Nic?” he asked, unsure of how to comfort her.

 

“Oh, Daryl, I’m so sorry,” she sniffled, “I know how much you loved him.”

 

Panic coursed through his veins. “What’re ya talkin’ ‘bout?”

 

“We had to, I promise if there was another way we would have done it, but its state law,” she said sobbing.

 

“Damn it, woman, just tell me!” he yelled, slamming his fist down on the desk scaring her.

 

“A family came in around noon to look at the dogs and one of the little boys stuck his hand into Seven’s cage to pet him and he bit him. He’s getting put down.”

 

It was like Daryl’s whole world ended. His mind became consumed with anger and fear. “What if I took him home? There’s gotta be another way! He’s my dog! You can’t do this!” He pleaded, his face red with tears streaming down.

“They already took him, Daryl. I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry,” she tried to reach out to him but he snapped.

 

He kicked and screamed at her, knocking the stuff off her desk until he finally stormed out and ran into the woods, his home, his shelter. He ran till he couldn’t run anymore. He fell to his knees, skinning them a bit, but he didn’t feel it. All he felt was the stabbing pain in his heart. It was like he lost a part of himself. After that day, Daryl never went back to volunteer and he never let anyone close until he met Dale, and even then he kept the man at a safe distance. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing anyone that close to him ever again, he doesn’t think he would survive.

 

Daryl’s heart clenched at the memory. Blue seemed to notice the shift in his demeanor and licked his cheek, just like Seven used to do. Daryl booped Blue’s nose causing him to poke his tongue out automatically. Blue shook his head and his eyes got big. He looked at Daryl like ‘what did you just do to me?’ Daryl laughed till his ribs hurt.

 

“What, you’ve never been booped before?” As if the wolf understood him, he shook his head. Daryl rubbed Blue’s fur and kissed him sweetly on the top of the head. Nature and animals have always been his safe haven. If he had told his younger self that he would be petting a big ass wolf as if he were a puppy, the little Dixon would have been speechless. The two then watched the moon for hours in silence until they fell asleep.

---

Light and dark patterns dance on Daryl’s face in the early morning hours. The birds sing their good morning and the trees wave back. The warm morning sun hugs Daryl awake. His back is tight and his neck feels strained from being propped on his hand all night. As he peers out into the world, he notices he is alone. His chest feels hollow at the realization. It was dumb to think Blue would still be here in the morning, but it didn’t stop him from hoping. He rubs his eyes and checks his phone.  

 

“Shit,” he sighs, he has work in thirty minutes.  He doesn’t have time for a shower so he quickly washes his face with a wet rag and microwaves some leftover scrambled eggs. His stomach begs him for more, he didn’t have much dinner last night because of his little trouble maker and now he wouldn’t have much breakfast. He chugs his lukewarm coffee then brushes his teeth. As he glances in the mirror, he sees how crappy he looks. His hair is greasier than usual and his under-eyes are decorated in dark ugly purple bags. If Daryl is lucky maybe Dale won’t be in today and he will skip hearing Dale’s lecture.

---

It turns out, Daryl is a very unlucky man, not only was he forced to endure Dale’s overprotective nature but Aaron’s as well. It was like the world really did hate Dixon boys. As soon as Daryl walked in the door Dale was on his ass.

 

“Jeez, boy, what happened to you? Did you sleep outside or something?”

 

“Just a little tired that’s all, let me get to work,” Daryl said, trying to pass the old man. Dale stops Daryl with a hand to his chest. Dale sniffs the air for a moment then a realization hits him and stares at Daryl. The hunter immediately feels uncomfortable under his boss’s gaze.

 

“What?” He snaps.

 

“Nothing… I-I’ve got to make a phone call, excuse me.” Dale replies quietly then rushes off to his office. A pit forms in Daryl’s stomach, he waits a moment longer before turning to the break room to put his stuff in his locker. On his way, he can hear the panicked muffled voice of Dale talking with whoever is on the other end of the phone.

 

“I know he’s a good man, Rick, but that doesn’t mean what you are doing is any less dangerous. You’re not thinking straight.”

 

Daryl’s brow frowns in concern. ‘Dale isn’t talking to his Rick right?’ he questions. He is itching to know more but shakes it off. ‘It ain’t none of my business,’ he tells himself unconvincingly.

 

Aaron is suiting up into his uniform when Daryl opens the door.

 

“Morin-,” Aaron pauses after seeing Daryl’s inner turmoil and his shaggy appearance, “I leave for two weeks and you fall apart? Come here.”

 

“Gosh, will everyone just leave me alone! I’m fine, damn it!” he shouts as he shoves his bag in his locker. Aaron silently observes Daryl as if he was watching a stray cat in his yard, unsure how he should approach. He decides to make Daryl a cup of coffee and places it in front of him along with a granola bar. Daryl accepts the offering with guilt. He takes a bite and his taste buds cry. It’s not the best-tasting thing but it is much better than his bland eggs.

 

“Thank you,” he says quietly. Aaron knows that means ‘I’m sorry,’ and accepts with a sad smile. He pats Daryl’s back as he leaves.

---

The moment Daryl walks into his house he whips out his phone and starts pacing. His anxiety grows the longer it takes for Rick to answer. He crosses his arms and brings his thumb up to his mouth to chew on what little skin is left. When Rick finally picks up, Daryl feels like he can breathe again.

 

“Officer Grimes speaking,” Rick answers in his sweet southern drawl.

 

“Can you come over?” He asks nervously.

 

“Daryl? What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Rick’s voice was frantic.

 

“I’m fine, I just- nevermind,” he says, feeling silly for making Rick worry about him over nothing.

 

“No, you called me, what’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing, I overreacted.”

 

“Daryl, if I wasn’t tied down here with all this damn paperwork, I would be right there. So what’s wrong, seriously, don’t make me ask again,” he says sternly.

 

“I know it’s not any of my business but were you on the phone with Dale today? I just don’t want nothin’ ta happen to ya because your dumbass just had to be a hero.”

 

Rick is quiet for a moment, “You’re right ‘bout it not being nona your businesses,” he says calmly, making Daryl’s belly sink, “but I know you mean well. Dale is just being his overbearing papa bear self. Ain’t nothin’ ta worry about, I promise.”

 

Daryl sighs in relief. “I know the feeling. He would have made a good dad,” he says trailing off at the end. Rick hums in agreement. Daryl never knew Dale’s wife but he felt like he did with how much Dale talked about her. Their love was as pure as Eric and Aaron’s.

 

“But really, you would tell me if you were knee deep in shit though right?”

 

“Yes, Darlin,” he could hear Rick’s smile through the phone. Daryl huffs and rolls his eyes playfully.

 

“Don’t roll your eyes at me!” Rick mocks.

“You can’t even see me!”

 

“I know you well enough to tell when you’re rollin’ them beautiful blues.”

 

“Oh my gosh,” Daryl moans, rubbing his eyes and smiling slightly, “Oh, speakin’ of blue, our furry friend came around yesterday.”

 

“Oh yeah?” he said in amusement.

 

“If there was any doubt before then I know for a fact now that he ain’t no normal wolfie. Yesterday, after I sent you that photo, he came right up to me like he was a puppy, not a big ass wolf,” he said in wonderment, “I just don’t know what to think. And when I was talkin’ it was like he understood me.”

 

Rick was silent for a long while, it made Daryl uncomfortable. He heard Rick hesitate and in a careful, almost shy or weary tone say, “Have you ever looked up the lore around here?”

 

“Lore?” Daryl he asks, puzzled, “What like chupacabras ‘n stuff?”

 

Rick laughs, less nervous than he was before, “Something like that.”

 

“Are you sayin’ Blue might be something paranormal?”

 

“I’m not saying anything, other than the world is a lot stranger than most people think it is.”

 

“Ya seen a bigfoot while you been playin’ cops and robbers?” Daryl jokes.

 

Rick chuckles, “Something like that.”

 

After a few more minutes, Daryl hangs up the phone with a funny feeling in his stomach. He isn’t sure what to think of his conversation with Rick. He walks over to the fridge and chugs the orange juice he finds there. He walks over the cabinet and grabs a box of mac’n’cheese and pops it in the microwave. He then opens a can of tuna to mix in.

 

He leans up against the counter and ponders. Would his Uncle have any old lore books in his library? Daryl grabs his food and jogs up the stairs. The old wooden door creaks open and dust flies thru the air from the light that comes from the large windows. Books upon books accentuated the walls. He never thought of his Uncle as a bookworm but I guess he is full of surprises. To his left was an old desk and a trunk facing towards the window, above it is a smaller circular window. To his right is a small light brown couch facing away from the windows. The view from up here took Daryl’s breath away.

 

He vaguely remembers sitting up here as a child back when his grandparents owned the place. Before his mother died, on Sundays she would drop him and Merle off here. It was the only time he would eat well. His grandmother wasn’t warm and cuddly like most grandmas. She had a razor for a tongue, she loved to curse and speak her mind. She would point out all their flaws and gossip on the phone all day. The only good thing about her that he remembers is her cooking. Every Sunday, she would make a big feast of food for them. Sometimes, she would let him help her make dessert, which was normally some type of pie or cookie. It was one of his fondest memories.

 

If he wasn’t out exploring the woods or swimming in creek surrounding the home, he was up here reading. Back then, there were a lot fewer books, not that he could read that well anyway. He mainly just looked at the pictures that were hand drawn. Most were of plants around the area but some were of monstrous creatures said to lurk in the woods. He remembers the legend of the chupacabra the best.

 

The beast had fangs as sharp as needles, eyes that craved bloodlust, and claws that itch for flesh to tear in to. Its hunched hairless body about the size of a small bear. It strikes fear into the heart of anyone who witnesses its madness. After reading about it, he was out late at night camping with Merle and he needed to take a piss. He grabbed his flashlight and walked a ways out only to be greeted by the devil himself. Daryl had never been so afraid. As it stared him down, chills ran down his spine. He could feel the blood run from his face and he hadn’t even been bitten.

 

He ran to Merle hollerin’ and yellin’ for him to get his shotgun. Merle in his drowsy drunken state laugh at him and call him a sissy. When he saw how petrified his little brother was, he checked the area to try to calm Daryl down but couldn’t find a trace of the beast. Eight-year-old Daryl wasn’t convinced. Merle sighed as he moved his sleeping bag next to Daryl’s and ran his fingers thru the scared boy’s hair until they fell asleep.

 

Its memories like those are what breaks his heart. By no means did he win brother of the year but he tried. It's hard for Daryl to give up on a brother that tried to protect him. On more than one occasion, Merle took a beating that was meant for him. He wishes he could have protected Merle from himself like he protected Daryl from the chupacabra.

 

Daryl runs his fingers along the spines of the books leading up to the desk, collecting dust on his fingertips as he passes. One of the shelves is broken, books scattered along the floor around it. He picks them up one by one. Most of them look like journals more than actual literature. As he flips thru them he notices it as his Uncle’s messy slanted handwriting.

 

Entry 5455: July 28th, 2005

 

It’s finally warming up here in Norway.

 

Norway? He didn’t think any Dixon boys ever left Georgia unless they were being transferred in prison.

 

I’ve been here three weeks now and have made significant progress. The wolfmen here honor tradition. They are all one large pack that rule over the forest of Beech Tree Forest. It’s much different from the ones in America. The land is solely cared for by the pack, no humans are allowed in. They are struggling to protect their sacred land due to the greed of their human counterparts. Deforestation is causing their burials to be disturbed and their people to be homeless. It’s horrific to see such beautiful lands be destroyed.

 

I was allowed to meet with the elders of the pack who told me their heritage. There were a father and son, Sigmund and Sinfjotli, who were wondering in the woods when they came upon magic pelts. When they put them on, they turned into wolves and couldn’t turn back until the tenth day. Their offspring became cured to live their lives as haft wolf, haft humans. As time went on, the pack was created.

 

Daryl didn’t know what to think. Was his Uncle a junkie or maybe he had a psychotic break? None of what this journal says makes any sense. Each entry told of Jesse’s travels. He had pages filled talking about the werewolf women in Brazil and the fights he got into while traveling in Germany. All Daryl thought he knew about his Uncle seemed to be fabricated. He found the oldest journal it read:

 

Entry 1: November 2nd, 1990

I don’t really know how to do one of these journals, but I need to tell someone about this. I don’t know what the hell that fucking freak did to me but something ain’t right. About a month ago, I went to my regular strip club to see my girls. While I was there I saw that they had this new girl named Paula. She is a fiery redhead with a banging body, so of course, I worked my charm on her.   

 

The next few weeks when I visited, Paula sought me out. We had a thing going, ya know? Last week, she invited me over to her house to play cards with her and her friends. Turns out she lives in a big ass house with a bunch of other women. I think she is a prostitute. It didn’t bother me much though. There was a bunch of men there drinking, playing cards, and feeling up the women. It seemed to me like a good time so I stayed and enjoyed myself.

 

Towards the end of the night, she said the big man wanted to meet me. She took me to this back room where there was a pool table, darts, a poker table, and a bar. The women here were all dressed in short black dresses. They would refill the men’s drinks and chat. I could tell instantly who the big man was.

 

He was a man in his late forties, early fifties, he had a salt and pepper beard, and slicked back dark hair. He wore a leather jacket, a red scarf, blue jeans, and heavy biking boots. His booming laugh set me on edge. This man was the picture of the type of dominance that makes a weak man kneel, but I was not a weak man.

 

When Paula introduced me, he flashed me a smile that made my skin crawl. It was purely predatory like I was being hunted and had just tripped his trap without even knowing it. I didn’t let my concern show on my face. I shook his hand and he told me to sit. He said that Paula really talked me up, that a man with my skills would fit in well here. He told me that these people were his pack. They called themselves the Saviors.

 

He told me that everyone here was werewolves. I had heard of the creatures before from drunks at bars, but I didn’t think they were real! I scoffed and told him I didn’t believe him. His menacing smile grew larger causing me to shift in my seat.

 

“Simon,” he said to the man sitting next to him. I listened in horror as all his bones were breaking and being rearranged. His skin stretched and hair started growing at rapid speeds. My fear turned into amazement as I watched his ugly mug turn from human into a snout with teeth made for tearing throats. His eyes turned golden. He had turned into a wolf, a real living breathing wolf.

 

Negan, the alpha, told me that if I wanted I could have his power too. A voice in the back of my head told me this was a terrible idea, but the things he promised me were too irresistible. With a wolfish grin of my own, I agreed. He told me that until my first shift there would be side effects, but I didn’t listen, I was too consumed by my greed. He said,

 

“Lucky for you the next full moon is this weekend so you’ll be able to shift sooner.”

 

I should have fucking listened because I want to claw all my skin off. Everything hurts. When Negan bit my arm, I passed out. It was too intense. I woke up about an hour later and drove myself home. It’s been a day and it looks worse. The veins around the area are black and pulsing. The bite itself feels like someone branded me. My eyes feel heavy and bloodshot. My skin feels itchy from my hair becoming thicker.  I feel like my skin is constricting me as if I’m a snake trying to shade its skin. I’m constantly hungry but my teeth ache too much to try to have anything solid. My nails feel as if someone is using pliers to tear them out and my head feels like I was hit with a metal pipe.

 

Is this normal? I want it to end. It’s too much.

 

Entry 2:

Last night was my first shift. It was worse than I could have ever imagined. As each day passed, my senses heightened as did my pain. I went over to the pack house to meet with the others. When I got there, everyone was naked and partying. I felt relieved to be able to take off my clothes, they felt like sandpaper against my skin.

 

When the moon showed herself all big and bright, I became hypnotized. The pack surrounded me, shifting with ease. They howled and growled. Negan was still in human form, but his eyes glowed blood red. He howled and the pack echoed him, suddenly my brain exploded with searing pain. I screamed in agony as my bones started breaking one after the other, rearranging themselves. My nails and teeth started to bleed as they grew longer. My eyes burned so bad I wanted to tear them out of my skull.

 

Negan laughed cruelly, fiercely grabbing me by the hair and dragging me to the edge of the creek. I struggled helplessly as he forced me to stare at my reflection in the water. I didn’t recognize myself at first. I hadn’t fully shifted yet. My ears were pointier, my cheekbones more prominent, my brows were bushier, my beard fuller and thicker. What really shook me to my core were my eyes; they were no longer a forest green, but a piss yellow.

 

“Who are you?” he asked in a low rough voice.

 

“What?” I asked dazed. My vision becoming blurry as I finished my transition into a wolf.

 

“Who are you?!” He yelled, demanding an answer.

 

“Jesse?” He snarled at dunked my head into the water. My lungs burned like fire.

 

“Paula, tell your pathetic boy toy the correct response,” he spat.

 

“Negan,” she responded as if it is routine.

 

“Who are you?!” he yelled again, his spit flying at her face.

 

“NEGAN!” She growled back, the muscles in her neck popping out. The last thing I heard before passing out was the pack chanting Negan’s name.  

 

When I awoke, I was alone in the forest, still lying where I had passed out. I looked around me for any sign that what happened last night was real. Wolf prints littered the ground around me and the air stunk of alcohol. My mouth felt like a desert and my head pounded still. I cupped my hands into the water and drank like I was dying of dehydration. I stumbled around, but I couldn’t find my clothes or truck anywhere.

 

“Bastards,” I mumbled angrily.

 

On my way home, a pinched face pig stopped me because of my naked bloody state. I was taken back to the station to be questioned, but I gave um’ a piece of my mind and they eventually drove me home.

 

Entry 3:

As unsettled as I am towards the pack, I don’t regret the bite. The unbearable torture I faced before is completely gone. I feel reborn. My senses are still heightened but not in an unbearable way. If I focus I can hear squirrels chase each other in the trees from inside the cabin. I can smell the meat pie the neighbor is having for dinner. It’s almost relaxing.

 

When I looked in the mirror this morning, I was shocked to see myself. I’m not as hairy as I was when I was mid-shift, but I am noticeably more hairy than I was before the bite. My canine teeth are sharper and more prominent, but not to where it is really questionable. My muscles bulge out of my clothes and my strength has doubled.

 

Earlier, I was making a pot of coffee. Usually, I only need one pot to get me through the day but I’ve had to double it because my metabolism is off the charts. It makes me miss Momma’s cooking. Maybe I’ll travel back to Georgia to see her, though she’ll probably just insult me the whole time, so maybe not. Sometimes, I dream of the sunsets there. They are more beautiful than the ones here in Virginia.

 

Daryl continued to read through his Uncle’s journals with curiosity and an unsettling feeling stirring in his stomach. The more he learned about the Saviors the more his anxiety grew. The Saviors seemed to be the exact opposite of what their name suggests, they terrorized other packs for their land and resources. They have strange rules to follow and seem to almost worship Negan. His Uncle was basically in a werewolf cult.

 

Daryl could hardly wrap his head around werewolves, much less the cult mentality. Jesse wasn’t like a lot of the other members, he didn’t enjoy having Negan as the pack leader. On more than one occasion, he was punished for being out of line. He wanted to be solo. Jesse was never a rule follower so being submissive to a man who lived and breathed power, dominance, and control was a problem for him.

 

He was afraid to leave though. He wrote pages upon pages about the harsh punishments members would receive for things. Burned faces, gang beatings, and the worst in his Uncle’s opinion, the psychological torture. He described his time in the cell as worse than prison.

 

They beat him within an inch of his life and stripped him bear. They threw him in a pitch black cell and blared upbeat trashy music. They only opened the door once a day to give him a single cup of water and a fucking dog food sandwich. He wasn’t allowed to leave until he denounced himself to “become one with the pack again”. He was no longer Jesse Dixon, the redneck boy from Georgia who drank a bit too much, but Negan, a slave to the pack just like everyone else.

 

Jesse was forced to watch as families were torn apart. Negan was a disgusting man. He would choose women from the pack to be one of his many wives. If the poor woman refused then her husband or wife would coincidentally be in a mysterious accident or go missing. If she accepted then she became a sex slave.

 

Once, the pack was gathered outside by the bond fire. Jimmy, a twenty or so year old boy, was tired to a chair. Sweat dripped down his face and his pleading for mercy fell on deaf ears. He had slept with Lauren, his old high school sweetheart, who was now Negan’s wife. Jesse and the pack had to watch in horror as Negan calmly took the iron out from the fire and scorched poor Jimmy’s face to hell. The smell of burnt human flesh had filled Jesse’s hypersensitive nose making him almost vomit. Jesse had written that the blood-curdling sound of Jimmy’s screams kept him up at night for years to come.

 

After fifteen years of being a slave to the pack, he had managed to escape. He and three other wolves had been at the loading dock at one of the ports on the east coast for some gun smuggling. The deal went south and Jesse and seen that this would be his only chance of running away so he did. He traveled the world, learning about other pack cultures until his mother died. He came back to Georgia then and became the caretaker of the home. Along the way, he found that he wasn’t the only wolf in town. The land the cabin is on is wolf territory so he became acquaintances with them.

 

He refused to join their pack though. He described the other wolves as being good people but Jesse didn’t ever want to be tied down to a pack again. Daryl didn’t blame him. He couldn’t imagine having to witness all the shit his Uncle wrote about, it was hard enough to read it. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and flipped through the pages, searching for the last entry.

 

Entry 10220: December 30th, 2018

This is it. My last adventure. If I’m honest with myself I don’t know how to feel. Back in 2016 when I was diagnosed with cancer, I was in denial. I was scared and now… I think I’ve made my peace. I’ve lived a hell of a life, ya know? I don’t have anything tying me here so why would I pray to stay? I think I’m ready to move on to my next adventure. I wonder what the afterlife will hold for me. I doubt any god will be easy on a Dixon boy, but I’ll raise hell either way.

 

Daryl smiled sadly.

 

Daryl, if you find this then that means you have inherited the land (no way in Hell I’d give it to your brother). I hope ya like it and get along with the pack. They are good people, I promise. There is a lot for you to learn about werewolf culture and pack mentality. I think you’ll fit in fine though. I know you never really had much so the love and loyalty that will come from being part of a pack will throw you off. Don’t be apprehensive, they mean well. You got that soft heart like your mother, but you’ve got the distrust of a Dixon.

 

I must warn you though, you ain’t safe. Even though I’ll be six feet under the Saviors won’t stop searching for me. They’ll try to take over the pack and our land, you can’t let them. Police can’t do shit so you’re on your own.

 

P.S. I know I never did anything to save you from your old man’s swing and I ain’t proud of that. I hope you can forgive me.

 

Be safe nephew,

Jesse D.

Chapter Text

The night is chilly, leaving little goosebumps all over Daryl’s arms. He slings his lunch box over his shoulder and carries a six-pack of Coke with the other hand. His shoulders are tense as he walks into the police department. He has been here many times to bail Merle out and to pay speeding tickets, but it still puts him on edge. He knows the cops here aren’t all assholes, Rick is proof, but that doesn’t stop the voice in his head that sounds a lot like his brother from telling him otherwise.

As he walks in, he sees Amy, Andrea’s little sister, working the front desk.

“Hey, Daryl,” she greets cheerfully.

“Is Rick in? I brought’m some lunch,” he replies, lifting up the bag for her to see.

“Yeah, he’s at his desk. It's back there,” she snickers then points towards the large open space room behind her.

“Thanks,” he nods and walks towards Rick’s desk. It’s small and cluttered with paperwork, fast food cups, and a few pictures of who he assumes is Carl. His desk is facing towards Michonne’s.

Her desk has a photo of her hugging her son as the waves crash into them on the beach. His heart aches for her. She had lost both her son and longtime boyfriend about three years ago when her boyfriend and his friend got high and accidentally burned the house down with them all inside. She was never the same after, but as they say, time heals. More recently, she has started smiling again, Daryl thinks a certain blonde beauty has something to do with that.

He smiles to himself and looks over towards Rick. He has his head down, his tongue poking out the side of his mouth, his eyes laser-focused on the paper in front of him. Tara looks up from her desk, which is a few feet from Rick’s and smiles mischievously. She nods towards Rick and mouths,

“You should scare him.” Daryl grins in agreement. He silently sets down his lunch box and inches towards his friend. Rick blinks a few times and lifts his head up, sniffing the air. Daryl looks back to Tara who motions for him to hurry up.

“Hey!” He yells as he digs his fingers into Rick’s shoulders.

“Fuck!” Rick screeches, he turns around to look at Daryl. His right hand clutching his heart and the other holding on to his chair for dear life. Daryl could have sworn he saw Rick’s eyes flash a bright blue color. “Fucking hell, Daryl, don’t do that to me. I’m too old for this.”

“Hey, watch your fuckin’ language!” A deep voice calls from the break room.
Tara snorts so hard she tips over in her chair. Daryl doubles over laughing at her.

“That’s what you get traitor!” Rick snickers. After she picks herself up off the ground, she flips them both the bird.

“Y’all are worse than children, I swear,” Officer Morgan Jones says, emerging from the break room. He shakes his head and sips his steaming coffee.

“What you didn’t bring enough to share?” Tara jokes.

“I didn’t want to get diabetes from holding that much sugar in a cup,” he replies. She frowns and glares at him.

“So, what brings ya in? No one has been messing with ya have they?” Rick asks Daryl.

“Nah, just wanted to bring ya lunch,” he says, hiding his face behind his hair.

“I hope you didn’t feel obligated to because I brought you lunch that one time.”

“Course not, I just wanted ta see ya.” Rick beams at him, making Daryl’s face heat up.

“What’d you bring?” He asks, peering behind Daryl.

“I made ya three grilled chicken and guacamole wraps and one for myself. Oh, and a six pack of coke for ya ta share if ya want.”

“Yes!” Tara says fist pumping the air.

“He said if I wanted to that doesn’t mean I have to,” Rick smirks. Her jaw drops as she acts offended.

“This is bullying. All three of you,” she points and glares at each of the men, “first Daryl laughs at me falling over, then Morgan makes fun of my sweet tooth, and now I’m being tortured with coke!”

“You’re so dramatic,” Morgan rolls his eyes making Tara stick her tongue out playfully. Daryl rips off one of the sodas and tosses it to her. She does a little happy dance and opens it. It sprays all over her pants and foam runs down her hands.

“Really? Really!” She says to the ceiling as she throws her hands up in the air.

“You’re worse than my son,” Morgan groans, handing her napkins from his desk. She mumbles her thanks.

“Anyway, back to our conversation before we were so rudely interrupted,” Rick teases. Tara gives him an unamused look. “Thank you for your sweet gesture. Would you like to go to the break room to eat?”

Daryl nods and they make their way into the cramped room. It smells of burned microwave dinners and stale coffee. Rick brushes off the table with his hand, sending muffin crumbs tumbling to the floor. Daryl pulls out the plump wraps and hands Rick his. As he opens it he looks like he’s in love.

“Wait, you said you made these?” Daryl nods, taking a bite of his. “Are these ingredients fresh?”

Daryl wipes the side of his mouth with his hand, “Yeah, I stopped at the farmer’s market earlier.”

“Thank you, Daryl, seriously, I can’t remember the last time someone did something like this for me.”

“You deserve to have a healthy homemade meal every once and awhile,” Daryl says shyly. Rick smiles and takes a massive bite out of his wrap. His eyes flutter shut as he moans.

“Oly shiz ‘ryl this is ‘mazing,” he says with his mouth full.

“Swallow before you choke yourself.” His chest blooms with warmth at the compliment.

“Oh, I could get used to this.” Daryl makes a mental note to do this again sometime.

“So,” the hunter starts. He has a slight ulterior motive to visiting Rick. He has lots of questions and it seems like Rick might have the answers, “I looked into the lore of the land like you said.”

Rick’s ears twitch, he pauses for a moment, then swallows, “yeah?”

“Yeah, I found some pretty interesting stuff.”

“Like what?” he says, chewing his food much slower than before.

“Oh, ya know, the typical bumps in the night. Wendigos, chupacabras, werewolves…” he trails off, observing Rick’s reaction.

“Sounds like nightmare fuel,” he chuckles to himself, “I hope ya didn’t wet the bed after reading them.”

“Ha, no, haven’t done that since I was a boy,” Daryl replies, “it did make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up though.” He leans back in his chair before continuing, “so, you think Blue is a werewolf?”

Rick stops eating and looks up at him for a moment, then looks back down,” I never said that.”

“Ya, told me to look into the lore of the land meaning you had to have suspected it or else you wouldn’t have said anything.”

Rick stays quite and continues to eat his food, not looking at his friend.

“How do you know so much about our four-footed brothers?” Daryl hated interrogating Rick. It made him feel sick but he needed to know if his suspicions were true.

He feels eyes on him and he looks around. Sitting at his desk glaring at Rick is Shane. His face is hard and his fists are clenched as he and Rick maintain eye contact. Rick seems to shrink under his gaze.

“Maybe we can take this outside. I bet the stars look beautiful at this hour,” Rick says, quickly grabbing his food. As they walk out into the office area, everyone seems to be watching them intensely.

“Hey, Rick, mind if I have another soda? You wanna be careful with how much you consume. Too much is hazardous to your health.” Tara says. It as if she was trying to warn him about more than his sugar content.

“You better listen to your partner, Rick, you otta be careful,” Shane’s voice low and threatening. Every instinct in Daryl’s body screamed at him. Something wasn’t right.

“Uh, sure, Tara,” he says handing her a soda. His jaw is tight and his movements stiff. Daryl felt frozen. He didn’t know what to do. Rick tightly gripped his wrist and guided Daryl towards the parking lot, stopping beside Rick’s cruiser.

Daryl didn’t know what to say. He wanted to ask what all that was about but he decided against it. It could bring Rick more trouble. For a long while, they were silent. Rick continued eating, but Daryl had lost his appetite.

“Shane’s mom liked to tell us stories when we were kids,” Rick says, his voice sounding unusually loud in contrast to the quiet night. Daryl looks up at Rick who is perched on top the back of the patrol car. The moonlight and neon signs around them illuminate his face. He looks like a man at war with himself.

“She would tell us tales of haft human haft wolf people that roamed the woods behind our neighborhood at night. I think she did it to scare us away from adventuring out there so late but in actuality, we became more fascinated,” Rick says as he toys with the wrap in his hand.

“We would sneak out at night to try and find the wolfmen. Sometimes, we’d even pretend to be them. We would jump over logs, wrestle in the leaves, and howl at the moon in all her glory. We felt free,” he says. He has a longing look in his eye as he stares at the ground. Daryl puts his hand on Rick’s knee, not knowing what to say.

“I had wished we were real wolves, but I didn’t know,” he says trailing off at the end to where Daryl has to strain his ears to hear him.
“Know what?” Daryl asks carefully. Rick is silent and unmoving. It made Daryl regret even coming here. He starts to pull his hand away but Rick grabs him and laces their fingers together, not looking at him.

“You know in England they believe that if a werewolf is in love or trust a person with their pack’s life, then they will transform in front of that person.”

“That’s beautiful, Rick,” Daryl says, not understanding what that had to do with anything.

“I used to dream of finding a partner who I trusted to transform in front of. To have that bond that the mates in Shane’s mother’s stories had, but when I got older, I also became wiser. I gave up on that dream because I wasn’t a wolf and I stopped believing in mates.”

Daryl watches as Rick plays with their intertwined fingers.

“How do you feel now?”

“I don’t know.”

They ate in silence for a few more minutes before Rick spoke again.

“You didn’t come here to bring me lunch did you?” Rick says, his voice filled with disappointment. Daryl’s throat becomes tight.

“I did, I swear! I also wanted to talk to you about Blue. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. It never was when we talked on the phone.” Daryl says panicked.

Rick’s eyes bore into his, searching for the truth. Daryl feels squeamish under his intense gaze, but he maintains eye contact, hoping Rick will believe him. Eventually, Rick nods his head and untangles their fingers. Daryl’s hand feels empty and cold without him.

“I’m sorry if I caused ya any trouble, honestly Rick. I ain’t good with people, I didn’t realize-”

“I know, Daryl. It’s my fault. I know some people are protective of this land’s heritage and don’t like when people put their noses into it. I shouldn’t have said anything to ya.” Rick says, cutting him off.

“Why is Shane so protective? It’s just lore right?”

“I don’t know,” Rick responds. Daryl isn’t sure which question was he answering, maybe it was both.

“I like talking to you, Daryl, but you can’t ask me stuff like that in public. It makes others uncomfortable.”

“Why?” He pushes again, but Rick says nothing and looks up at the moon as if he is searching for answers himself. Daryl feels like he knows the truth, but he wants to hear Rick say it. He wants Rick to trust him like wolves do their mates, but he understands that Rick can’t. Rick is giving him more than he should be and Daryl is going to have to accept whatever he receives.

“You have more questions, I can read it on your face. Go ahead and ask,” Rick says tiredly.

“Will you tell more tales about the werewolf lore around the world?” He figures that this is a safer question than his actual ones.

“Well, in Shetland, northeast of Great Britain, they don’t call their hybrid a werewolf, they call him a wulver. He was said to have the body of a man but the head of a wolf.”

“He must be one ugly son-of-a-bitch,” Daryl jokes, trying to break the tension. Rick laughs breathy and nudges Daryl’s shoulder with his arm. The corner of Daryl’s lip twitches upwards.

“The wulver was seen as a protector rather than a monster like people in America see wolves. The wulver was known for placing fish on the window seals of poor families so that they may eat.”

“Blue did something like that once. Brought me a squirrel while I was huntin’. Wait, does that mean he thought I was poor?” Daryl says, pretending to be offended. Rick barks out an ugly laugh in surprise of the accusation. A blush creeps up on his face and he clasps his hands over his mouth. Daryl laughs and pats his thigh.

“Gosh, that was an awful sound,” Rick chuckles.

“Almost as ugly as that wulver,” Daryl teases. Rick kicks him with his boot in the upper leg making Daryl lose his balance for a moment before steadying himself. He boops Rick’s nose and his tongue pokes out like Blue’s.

“Stop doing that,” Rick squeaks, swatting his hand away. His brows frown and the corners of his mouth point downwards.

“I’ve only done it once!”

“No, you did it when we were on your-,” he stops mid-sentence, then glares at Daryl, “fuck you.”

Daryl snorts and cups Ricks elbow, ”Hey, seriously, I ain’t gonna riot against you or your pack. I found some old journals from my Uncle while I was researching. He said there was a pack that lives in town. Just because I was a straight C student in school doesn’t mean I’m dumb. I can put two and two together.”

“I don’t think you understand how dangerous this is,” Rick says, concern evident in his voice.

“Maybe not, but you can trust me,” he says, gazing into Rick’s eyes. He looks conflicted, afraid even.

“It’s not you I’m worried about, D. The pack is very… protective. We have to be! There is a reason our kind live in secret. Plus, I’m the newest turned member so everyone is wary of me. They think I’m gonna fuck everything up and get us all killed,” he says, roughly rubbing his face with his hands.

“They said that?” Daryl asks in disbelief.

“Not directly, but they constantly have their eye on me like I’m a child. They don’t trust me yet. And all the tension between me and Shane has everyone on edge,” he huffs, “Shane is the alpha. I’m not supposed to be challenging him, but damn it, Carl is my son. He mated with my wife behind my back, I can’t change that, but I ain’t gonna let him take my son too.”

“So, your pack is unsure of who to follow?” Daryl asks, trying to understand.

“Yeah, sooner or later, the pack will either split into two or one of us will kill each other in a battle for alpha status.”

“Holy shit,” Daryl’s mind raced with possibilities. What if Rick killed Shane? Or worse, Shane killed Rick? He couldn’t morn another loss. It would be like losing Seven or Merle again. This is why he didn’t let people close. It hurts too much when they leave. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’ know,” Rick says, playing with a loose string on his pants.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Daryl says, whipping around to face Rick better, “You can’t wait around for him to stab you in the back, man! You gotta do somethin’!”

“Like what? Murder my best friend?” He yells, hopelessly. Daryl doesn’t know what to say, so he grits his teeth and kicks the patrol car tire. Rick sighs, “Daryl.”

He ignores his friend and keeps fuming silently.

“Daryl.”

“What?!” he screams, “What? Am I supposed to just be okay knowing you got a fuckin’ target on your back? Cause that ain’t how it works. I can’t just sit here like a little bitch and watch you get hurt.”

“I get that,” Rick says, his hands coming up as he tries to calm the hunter down.

“Do you?!” Daryl spits, getting up in his face, “Do you really?!”

He puts his hands on Daryl’s chest and pushes him back a bit. Daryl resists making Rick’s eyes flash blue. He growls and shoves Daryl against the patrol car. Daryl struggles, trying to get the upper hand, but he gives up. His chest pounds with adrenaline from both his anger and Rick’s body being flushed against his.

He can feel Rick’s heart beating in rhythm with his. Their breath mingling together. Daryl’s breath is taken away by the brightness of Rick’s wolf eyes shining in the moonlight. He swallows hard as Rick presses his forehead against his. He’s never felt this way before. So nervous and excited that he could piss himself. His whole body feels like it is in flames.

“Rick,” he whispers like a prayer. Rick brings his hand up to Daryl’s face, brushing Daryl’s cheekbone with his thumb. He tilts his head, their lips almost touching, until a car drives by honking its horn like it’s the damn apocalypse. The two jump apart with matching blushes. Neither can look the other in the eye. They listen to the driver’s laughter fade as the truck drives further and further.

“Asshole,” Daryl grumbles.

Rick chuckles to himself nervously, “So, um, are we gonna talk about it?”

“Nope.”

“Great.”

The two stand awkwardly, not sure what to do. Rick kicks a stone which hits Daryl’s boot. He kicks it back. They continue like this for a few minutes before Rick asks,

“What the hell are we doing, Dar?” He shrugs making Rick sigh, “Do you have any more questions? If not then I really need to get back to work.”

He thinks for a moment then asks, “Wait, how did you become a wolf?”

“When I was shot Shane panicked. He gave me the bite causing me to go into a coma-like state. No one has been bite by a pureblood for thousands of years. He thought I wasn’t going to wake up because his pureblood bite is stronger than the average wolf bite. Every few have ever survived. It was a miracle that I made it.”

“Pureblood?”

“Both sides of his family are wolves. His heritage is long and powerful in the pack. That’s why challenging him is such a big deal. It’s challenging this entire pack’s way of life.”

“Who all is in the pack?”

Rick shifts his weight, “That’s not for me to tell. Though, I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually.”

Daryl bites the skin around his thumb. He has a hell of a lot to think about. His mind buzzes for something to do. He craves the lush greenery surrounding his home but he reconsiders. What if he ran into one of the pack members? None of them have made themselves known to him yet but he’s sure they still roam around when he’s not looking.

“Rick, are you planning on staying out here all night? Wrap it up, buttercup!” Amy yells from the doorway. Rick groans and grabs his trash.

“Hey,” Daryl calls nervously, “We good?”

Rick stops and looks at the ground, “Yeah.”

The melancholy tone in his voice makes Daryl's stomach drop. He should have never come.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s mind is like a broken record. It keeps replaying the memory of visiting Rick at the station. The heartbroken look in his eyes once he realized Daryl’s plan, the way his body felt pressed up against his, the way Rick’s voice sounded so fragile and weighted. It has been like this every day since he last saw Rick two and a half weeks ago. The officer hadn’t texted him any corny dad jokes or asked him about his day like he normally would and Daryl was too afraid to text first.

He had fucked up. Even though Rick desperately wanted to confide in him, he couldn’t. Daryl didn’t realize how important it was for Rick to tell him on his own terms instead of forcing him. He made Rick vulnerable in a way he wasn’t comfortable to be yet. He stripped him of the protection he had and threw him to the wolves, somewhat literally. If the pack found out then they could cast out Rick for putting them in unnecessary danger, even though Daryl wasn’t a threat. To them, Rick’s actions showed his disloyalty to them.

Daryl ignored Rick’s warning, his plea for patience, and now Rick could pay the price for Daryl’s selfishness. It isn’t fair for his friend. The guilt was eating him alive. It has started to affect his work. He has been staying at work later because he has been falling behind on his duties. Not to mention that fact that he has accidentally cut, burned, and spilled various things on himself because his mind was elsewhere.

Dale hasn’t said anything yet, but he has been “checking in” on him and Aaron more often. It’s starting to piss him off. He doesn’t need to be babysat. He guesses that this is what Rick feels like all the time.

“Whoa!” Daryl yells as he slips on some grease that is on the ground, “What the hell Aaron? I almost ate shit! Clean up after yourself, man!”

“I’ve been working on the air conditioning in Mr. Johnson’s vehicle all afternoon so I haven’t used any grease,” Aaron says to him concerned and mildly annoyed, “Daryl, are you okay? Nevermind, that’s a dumb question. You’re obviously not okay, you haven’t been for a while. What’s bothering you?”

Daryl huffs, ignoring his friend to get back to his work. Aaron hesitates but says,

“If you’re having another major depressive episode then there is no shame or judgement in asking for help. You know Eric and I are always a phone call away. And I’m sure if you asked Dale for time off he’d give it to you.”

“Fuck off, it ain’t none of your business. Just go on back home to your perfect husband and your perfect life. You don’t know shit about nothin’,” Daryl spits.

Aaron clenches his jaw, but lets it go. Daryl knows he is being an ass but he feels hopeless with all these emotions spinning in his brain. Anger seems to be the only one he’s ever been good at expressing. It usually gets like this when he is having an episode. Eric once told him he had all the classic symptoms of major depressive disorder and that he needed to see a professional, but Daryl always made up an excuse not to go. As usual, Eric is probably right but that doesn’t persuade Daryl any.

He hears Aaron sigh and pop his fingers. The man gives him one last look before he signs out for the night. Daryl bangs his head on the top of the open hood. Then with every ounce of sanity he has left, he runs after his friend.

“Aaron, wait up!”

Aaron is standing in the doorway of his car, looking at Daryl with his brows raised. For a moment, Daryl doesn’t know what to say so he says the first thing that comes to mind.

“Wanna cigarette?” Aaron doesn’t smoke but he accepts the offering anyway. He knows that it’s just a way for Daryl to break the tension. The hunter lights his cig and takes a deep breath. It does very little to relax him. Aaron twirls the death stick as he waits patiently for Daryl to speak.

“I ain’t thinking straight.”

“Ya thinkin’ gay then?” Aaron chuckles making Daryl’s eyes shift towards the ground with a frown.

“Yeah.”

“Oh,” Aaron says slightly shocked at the confirmation. In all his years of knowing Daryl, the man never once showed any interest in anyone that he knew of. He had his suspicions about his friend but Daryl had never explicitly told him and he was smart enough not to push. He hesitantly asks, “Is it because of a certain boy in blue?”

Daryl nods stiffly. It feels so unbearably awkward to talk about relationships. He knows that Aaron won’t judge him but he’s been shamed his whole life to hide this side of himself away. It feels foreign to him to be able to speak freely about his crushes. Crushes, Daryl cringes at the word. It makes him feel childish and weak. He could count the amount of crushes he has had on one hand.

His first crush, after Peter Pan, was a boy named Carter in elementary school. His dark brown eyes and kinky hair made Daryl’s heart skip beats. He remembers asking his Momma if he could buy one of the big rainbow suckers for Valentines day to give to the boy. When his brother overheard, he called him horrible names and his Momma did nothing to stop it. That day he learned that he had to keep his feelings a secret.

His next crush was when he was in high school. An older boy named John-Michael. His sweet southern accent and the sway in his hips as he walked made Daryl a bumbling fool. He was one of Merle's friends, though he was only three years older than Daryl. He was a troublemaker but a gentleman when he wanted to be. He loved to blow stuff up and get into fights but he was the kinda guy you could never stay mad at. Daryl never really understood why Merle and Johnny were friends.

His first cigarette was given to him by Johnny. He had skipped class to hide underneath the bleachers. He wanted to get away from the face sucking teens and the gossip girl drama. When he got there, John-Michael was leaning against a pole in all his glory smoking a cig with tear streaks running down his gorgeous face. He had a purple and yellow bruise on his right cheek like someone had punched him.

Daryl was frozen. He had never seen Johnny like this. The boy was always a flirty cocky asshole who knew he was pretty and used it to break hearts. His lips were always twitched up into a smile or a sneer if he was bloodthirsty. Never in a million years had Daryl thought he would see Johnny without his mask on. Everyone wore their mask with grace and pride, especially men like Johnny and Merle. You had to hide your emotions or else you were asking for trouble. People loved to take advantage of others who were stupid enough to be vulnerable around them.

When Johnny noticed him, he silently pulled out his pack of cigs and offered one to Daryl. Unsure of what to do, Daryl took it and they sat there in silence until Johnny spoke,

“You ever been in love, Dixon?”

He shook his head.

“It sucks ass,” Johnny said sourly. He then eyed him up and down then asked, “You ever kissed anyone?”

Daryl choked on his smoke. His face was as red as the fire sizzling at the end of his stick.

“W-what?”

With more confidence, Johnny’s hazel eyes met his and he asked, “You ever been kissed by a man?”

“I ain’t no fag,” Daryl said, his voice was weak and his heart pounded. He wanted to run but he felt like his legs would give out on him if he tried.

“Neither am I,” he whispered. Then their mouths collided. Johnny’s lips were chapped and tasted like tobacco, but it was as if he was an oasis in the desert and Daryl was dying of thirst. The kiss was sloppy and uncoordinated but it still made his head rush. He never wanted it to end, but the bell for lunch rang and John left without another word. After that, he rarely saw the boy. Merle stopped inviting him over to drink or smoke and he would turn tail any time he saw the Johnny. Daryl never had the courage to ask what happened.

The last person he had a crush on before Rick was Aaron. It’s embarrassing to admit but it’s true. The way he smiled at Daryl and understood him was new. No one had ever tried so hard to be his friend. It's one of the reasons why meeting Eric had been so scary. He didn’t want to make either of them uncomfortable or have the younger man hate him. He was in no way planning on acting on his feeling towards Aaron.

To make matters worse, Eric was an angel. He went out of his way to treat Daryl with kindness and to make sure he knew he was welcome back into their home. The guilt he felt then was almost as bad as the guilt he feels now. Thankfully Eric never held his feels for Aaron against him.

The man actually joked that he would be more offended if Daryl wasn’t attracted to his husband. He promised to keep Daryl’s feeling a secret from Aaron and, like Daryl, Eric always keeps his promises. With time, his crush passed as it always has. Or had he guesses. These butterflies he feels for Rick just won't fly away.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’m 99.9% sure he has feelings for you too.”

“No, it doesn’t. I know he likes me. That is the problem!” Daryl shouts, throwing his hands in the air. Aaron’s face twists in confusion.

“Um, I’m not sure if you know this but most people think that’s a good thing.”

“Well most people don’t have crushes on-” he stops himself. He doesn’t need to make things worse by outing Rick, “nevermind.”

“Listen, I know Merle has this vendetta against cops but I don’t think that should stop you from being happy, Daryl,” he says gently. His big warm hand holds on to Daryl’s arm as if it will help Daryl accept what he’s saying. Daryl thanks whatever higher power was listening for Aaron’s obliviousness.

“Uh, thanks, man.”

“Wait, how did you know about Rick’s feelings?” he asks then smiles teasingly, “Did he show up at your door with sappy cue cards that made you swoon? Did you run after him and give him a kiss?”

“What? No, this isn’t Love Actually,” Daryl scolds.

Aaron bites his lip to try to keep himself from laughing, “I didn’t think you’d get that reference.”

“Shut up!”

Aaron snorts with laughter and slaps his leg. Daryl regrets saying anything. He gets up from leaning against Aaron’s car to walk back to the garage but a hand on his shoulder stops him.

“Wait, wait, I’m sorry. It was just really unexpected.”

Daryl grumbles in reply.

“Please, tell me what happened. I promise I won't interrupt or laugh again,” he holds his pinky out and Daryl swats it away.

“We ain’t kids, man.” Aaron pouts making Daryl roll his eyes as he entangles his pinky with his friends. Aaron smiles triumphantly.

“For starters, you know that bitch Shannon?”

“Ugh, I can feel a headache coming already,” Aaron says rubbing his temples.

“Well, when you were out caring for Gracie, she came in flirtin’ with me ‘n shit and Rick came in pretending to be my,” he hesitates, “my boyfriend. And after he kinda-sorta took me on a date,” he says the last part quickly, almost hoping Aaron didn’t hear him.

It takes Aaron a moment to process the information but when he does he asks, “Kinda-sorta?”

“He said it was as a thank you for listening to him rant about Lori.”

Aaron nods for him to continue.

“Ever since then, we’ve been textin’ ‘eryday until recently.”

“What happened recently?”

“A few weeks ago, he was working night shift so I brought him some lunch to surprise him. We ended up getting in an argument because I was bein’ an asshole and now we ain’t talkin’. I don’t know how to fix this,” he says, biting the tip of his thumb.

Aaron gives him a sad unsure smile, “they never said love was easy.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, now,” Daryl said with anxiety, “who said I was in love?”

Aaron puts up his hands up as if to surrender, “okay, sorry. They never said being an idiot with a crush would be easy.”

Daryl glares at him making Aaron snort.

“But seriously, Daryl, I think you need to meet up with him in person to apologize.”

Daryl’s shoulders slouch as he groans. Aaron shakes his head,

“I mean it! If you really care about him then you should put in effort to make things right. Relationships, no matter if they are romantic or not, have to be balanced. If one person is trying more or less than the other then the tension is going to break them. I don’t want to see that happen with you two.”

Daryl nods, his stomach is turning just thinking about seeing Rick again. He misses his stupid face but he doesn’t know how to express his feelings. Before, it had never been acceptable for him to. He is afraid of making things worse.

Aaron pats his shoulder then gets in his car. Daryl goes back inside and thinks about what to text Rick. As he does, the hairs on the back of his neck stand. He looks around the parking lot to see if someone was watching him but the only people he sees are three men in conversation on their bikes. One man has a nasty burn scar on the side of his face, another has a bushy gay porn mustache, and the last man was wearing a leather jacket and red scarf. They looked like trouble so Daryl quickly looks away. He doesn’t want to accidentally start a fight over a glance.

He shakes off the feeling and types out a message to Rick.

From: Darlin’ to Officer Friendly
Hey, meet me at the creek in an hour.

His thumb hovers over the send button. Was he too forward? Was he not forward enough? Would Rick even come? ‘Shut up,’ he scolds himself, ‘don’t be a pussy.’ His jaw clenched as he looks that the little line that reads, “Message sent at 5:16 p.m.” He hopes he didn’t make another mistake.
---
The sound of rushing water and trees rustling in the wind calm Daryl’s anxiety slightly. He had been waiting by the creek for twenty minutes now, he wasn’t sure if he was relieved that Rick isn’t here yet or not. He has a million things he wants to say but no idea how to say them.

As he runs his brush along his paper, he tries to rehearse what he will say. Painting had always been his coping mechanism. When he was a toddler, he would get whooped for drawing on the walls. His earliest memory of drawing was when he was about five years old hiding in the cupboard from his Paw’s drunken rage. While he listened to the cries of his mother and the crunching of beer cans, he drew Peter Pan carrying him off to Neverland with his home fading into the distance below him.

As he got older, he got more creative with his materials. Sometimes he would crush up berries to use as paint and old sheet metal or pieces of wood as canvas. Once, for his birthday, Merle bought him a cheap watercolor set from the local general store. Daryl had never been happier. He spent hours escaping the real world to create a safe haven made out of vibrant dye and water.

On the rare occasion Daryl was feeling proud of himself, he would present his work to Merle. His brother never said much, but he would stare at the picture a long while, really taking in all the minute details that Daryl put his heart and soul into. Then he would grin like a cat and ruffle his little brothers hair. Sometimes, he would call him a real Leonardo Dicaprio but Daryl knew who he meant.

Right after Merle came back from boot camp, he asked Daryl to make him a drawing of an eagle wrapped in an American flag to go on his back. With excitement bubbling in his stomach Daryl accepted. He had never felt so loved or accepted for who he was until that moment. A week later, Merle was showing off his little brother’s art to everyone who was sober enough to comprehend the image.

Daryl smiled to himself at the memory. He misses Merle more than he cares to admit. He wishes his brother was a better man. That he was only the good parts of himself, like the part that protected Daryl from the chupacabra and supported his art, not the bigot junkie he is most the time. He wishes that he was able to confide in Merle about his feelings for Rick and about himself in general, but the heartbreaking reality is that he probably never will be.

He sighs and adds a tiny bit of black to the blue water of the creek to make it a bit darker. He was a little rusty but his muscle memory was still sharp. He heard the faint sound of branches crunching behind him, assuming it to be Rick he puts down his utensils and scans the tree line. His heart beats in his ears almost painfully.

Instead of his wonderful blue-eyed beauty, he sees an unknown wolf. His fur is a salt and pepper kinda color. He looks a bit older than Rick, a bit bigger too. His blood red eyes are filled with such madness that Daryl’s spine tingles. Daryl’s not sure if he’s seeing things or not but he thinks the wolf’s mouth just split into the same type of grin that he would see on Merle or his father’s face when they were ready to paint the bar crimson. Daryl had no idea how he was supposed to defend himself if his unwanted visitor was as crazy as he seemed.

He wolf surprises him once again though, he gracefully turns back the way he came. Daryl is left stunned. The wolf was taunting him like he was prey. He wasn’t sure if he should stay where he is or to try to run back home. He decides that it is best to stay here until Rick comes.

As he waits, he tries to think who the wolf could be. He thinks back to what he knows about red-eyed wolves. He comes to the conclusion that the wolf had to be Shane threatening him to stay away from Rick and the pack. Anger spikes through him.

“Piece a’ shit,” he grumbles. He wasn’t going to let that asshole get to him. Rick has lost so much already and he wasn't about to abandon the man. He could take a punch if it came to it. Daryl’s knees pop as he gets up to stretch out. He for sure isn’t as young as he used to be. He walks over to the edge of the creek and watches the water tumble over the mossy rocks.

He tries not to fall over as he takes off his shoes and socks. He then rolls up his jeans over his knees and plants his foot on one of the larger stones. It’s cold and damp under him. He hops to the next one and the next one till he runs out of rocks big enough to step on. He squats down and lets the water run along his fingertips. It's like a wake up call.

He thinks about his first meeting with Rick. Tara had made a comment about the land being heaven and Rick nudged her. Did that mean she was a wolf too? That would explain her weird behavior towards Rick at the station and how she knew about the land. How many people had to live in secret like that? Lying to the people they love? Does her fiance know? If so then why is it acceptable for her to have a partner and not Rick? Unless Denise is a wolf as well. Ugh, Daryl’s brain feels like it's going to explode with all these questions without answers. He’s not sure if he is allowed to ask Rick them either, it might fuck up everything he is trying to fix here.

In his frustration, he picks up a stone and chucks it. This part of the creek isn’t even a foot deep but it sinks to the bottom of the water with a satisfying plop. He takes a deep breath and lets his eyes close. He’s so damn tired. Tired of the lies, the secrets, his feelings. Its too much. Its like someone took his heart and made him feel alive with adrenaline like when he and Merle used to race on their bikes as kids but that he can’t slow down or stop. It's exciting but terrifying. He wants the race to finish and for both him and Rick to be winners, but as it is now, it seems like they are going to crash into each other at any moment, giving them both broken hearts.

“What am I doing?” he asks no one. He doesn’t deserve Rick. Rick deserves someone who knows what the fuck they are doing. Someone who will bring them lunch to work regularly and who can be a parent to his son. Someone who he can trust not to fuck up his life more than it already is. Its as if Daryl is a flame and Rick is a match. Their chemistry was made for each other but he’s burning the life out of Rick.

Daryl’s eyes sting but he refuses to let any tears fall. He’s a Dixon boy damn it! Dixon’s don’t cry over pretty boys. Then again, they never fall in love in the first place. Love. The word strikes him harder than his Daddy ever did. Holy shit, Aaron was right. He, Daryl motherfucking Dixon, is in love with Rick Grimes. He doesn’t know how or when it started to happen, he just knows he’s too far gone to stop it. The realization makes him want to hop on his bike without a second thought and never come back. To go where no one knows of the cop with the gorgeous blue eyes that shine under the moonlight. He seriously considers it for a second then scolds himself.

As much as it hurts to stay, he knows it would be a thousand times worse to abandon his friends without warning. Dale, Maggie, Aaron, and Eric would send a search party. And Rick, well, Daryl doesn’t want to think about the misery, the guilt and blame he knows the man would unjustly put on himself for Daryl’s disappearance.

It’s not fair. None of it is. Not his fantasy and not their shitty reality, but life doesn’t care does she. She’s like his father. Beats him till he learns his lesson, tells him to quit bein’ a pussy and get up, then leaves scars as a reminder.

Fuck, he can’t help it. It’s all too much. He lets one tear fall, then another, until he can’t stop. His cries are loud and pitiful. His face is morphed into an ugly mess of tears and snot. His vision is blurred, but it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t want to see reality as it is anyway. He wants it all to disappear. He just wants to fly off to fucking Neverland, but life has never been so kind as the the boy in his Momma’s storybook.

He lets his body go limp. He falls into the water and lets it wash away his pain until his mind is numb and his heart is empty. He doesn’t know how long he laid lifeless in the water, but he knows it was long enough for his fingers and toes to prune and for his body to be shivering. It doesn’t matter though, the physical pain is better than the thoughts that tortured him before.

“Daryl?” he hears a distant voice call. He stays unmoving, staring up at the shifting sky above him. It’s so beautiful. The arrangement of pinks and yellows. He wishes that he had the energy to paint it.

“Daryl!” The voice calls again, this time closer and more clear. He listens to the rustling of grass and panicked footsteps running through the rushing water as the person draws near.

“Daryl, what the hell happened?” Rick asks. His eyes are as wide as the creek is long. He searches Daryl’s body for signs of trauma. Little did Rick know the trauma was on the inside. The thought made Daryl want to laugh, but even that was too hard. Being alive felts like a chore.

“Daryl, please, say something,” he pleas. His hands cupping Daryl’s face. Daryl drags his eyes to Rick’s and just starts balling again. He doesn’t understand how he has any tears left to cry but here he is, a pathetic disaster of a man.

“I’m sorry,” he says in a hoarse whimper.

“What did you do to yourself, Darlin’?” the officer asks, tears threatening to spill over his cheeks too. Daryl closes his eyes and lets Rick pull him out of the water, into his warm gentle arms. The walk back home seems to last only a second.

“Take your clothes off,” he says as he sits Daryl down at the dining room table.

“Buy me dinner first,” he jokes, but it falls flat. Rick opens his fridge and sets a bottle of water down in front of him.

“Drink at least a quarter of this while I get you some clean clothes.” Daryl waits until he hears Rick disappear into the farthest bedroom. It takes more willpower than he thought humanly possible but he takes a few sips. His mind is too numb to process it’s taste. He rests his head on his hand that is sitting on top of the water bottle.

A little voice inside his head that sounds like Aaron tells him to remember the 4:7:8 method. He exhales completely through his mouth making a whooshing sound, then inhales through his mouth silently while counting to four. He holds his breath till he counts to seven then exhales for eight counts. He repeats this method until he feels strong enough to take off his clothes.

Daryl is finishing the last of his breathing exercises when Rick comes in with a pair of thick socks, underwear, one of Merle’s old band tees he gave to Daryl, and sweatpants tucked under his arm. Rick seems to have changed out of his pants and into one of Daryl loose shorts as well. He must of got his jeans wet in the creek. After he changes and finishes the last of his water, he feels a lot better. Though he just wants to curl up into a ball and sleep a dreamless sleep.

“You can’t do this shit to me, Daryl,” Rick says, his voice breaking. Daryl’s heart drops. “Do you have any idea how fucking terrified I was when you weren’t answering my texts or when I smelled the scent of another wolf lingering around? I thought…” he pauses, trying to recompose himself, “I thought you were unconscious somewhere thinking I left you to fend for yourself.”

Daryl says nothing.

“Do you have any idea how much you matter to me you asshole?” Daryl just stares at him with misery plain on his face. His body aches and his head is fuzzy. He doesn’t think he can stand to carry anymore guilt. “Come here,” Rick says pulling Daryl tightly to his chest. His body trembles as Daryl buries his face in to the crook of Rick’s neck.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, “I don’t know how this works. I don’t know how any of this works.”

“That’s why you use your words, Daryl,” Rick says, trying not to cry again, “you have to let me in.”

“I don’t know how.”

“Then let me teach you,” he whispers, holding Daryl’s face in his hand. Daryl nudges Rick’s calloused palm.

“I fucked it all up. I just wanted you to trust me,” he says. Rick brushes away the tear that falls.

“I do,” he says, “I trust you with my life. My pack’s life, with Carl’s.”

Daryl lets out an ugly sob and clings to Rick tighter. After they both calm down, Daryl says,

“Stay, please.” Rick nods. They make their way to the couch, the bedroom feels too far away, and Daryl falls asleep listening to the sound of Rick’s heartbeat.

Chapter Text

Fingers lightly trail up and down Daryl’s back. The touch causes him to stir. He groans and burrows his head deeper into the crook of Rick’s neck. Daryl feels Rick smile into his hair.

“You’ve got to get up, Darlin’,” he says as he scratches Daryl’s back. Even though he feels a lot better than last night, his mind is still foggy and dread continues to loom over him. Rick feels him sigh.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Rick asks, brushing the hair out of the hunter’s eyes.

“I gotta bad feelin’ in my gut,” Daryl replies quietly.

Rick frowns, “I’m sorry fer yellin’ at ya. I was upset about the conversation at the station and then you text me sayin’ ya wanna talk but then didn’t answer my calls. I thought you had changed your mind or some’um.”

“Nah, I was distracted.”

“Next time turn your volume up.” Rick takes a deep breath and brings his fingers up into Daryl’s hair. “I almost didn’t come.”

Daryl’s throat tightens, “I’m sorry.”

“I know. It’s just scary to think what would've happened if I hadn’t shown up when I did. What were you doin’ in the water anyway?”

“I don’t really remember much. After seein’ Shane, I kinda blacked out I guess.”

“Shane? What are you talkin’ about?” Rick asks. Daryl can hear his heartbeat picking up speed.

“While I was waitin, a wolfie with red eyes stared me down from the tree line. The fucker even smiled at me.”

“Shane was still at the station when I met with you. He was taking a witness statement from Andrea and Rosita.”

“Are they alright?” Daryl asks, tilting his head up to look at Rick.

“A little spooked but that's all. A gang of dudes came into the dinner bein’ entitled pricks. They weren’t taking kindly to Andrea telling them off for suggesting a gang bang. When Rosita came out to tell them to leave, they laughed and got a bit aggressive. One of them grabbed Rosita’s arm and tried telling her to come back to his hotel room. She grabbed his plate off the counter and slapped him across the face with it.”

“That’s my girl,” Daryl chuckles.

“Yea,” Rick agrees, “Andrea managed to call the cops. When they heard the sirens, they hopped on their motorcycles and got away.”

“What did the assholes look like so that I can take a wrench to their knee caps if I see them.”

Rick rolls his eyes. “One guy had light brown scraggly long hair, kinda looked like he was on heroin or something. He was really obnoxious Rosita said. The leader guy had a creepy porn stash.” Daryl cringes at the thought. “There was a guy that seemed rather scared like he was forced to be there. He had a mullet of all things. The last guy was really strange though. He had a huge burn scar on the side of his face apparently.”

“I think I might have seen the last guy. He and porn stash were with another guy at the gas station across from Dale’s.

“Uhm, I’ll text Michonne about it later.”

Daryl lays his head back down but realizes, “So it really wasn’t Shane in the woods.”

“It couldn’t have been. I would have smelled his scent. This wolf isn’t from around here.”

“Then who the hell is stalkin’ me?”

“I don’t know, Darlin’. If you give me a description of him then I can ask around to the surrounding packs. See if any of their people were traveling and accidentally wandered onto your land looking for Jesse.”

“Your people are the pack that he was talkin’ about in his journal ain’ it.”

Rick nods, “Most likely, I only really saw or talked to him when we would gather for the full moon though. He was a bit standoffish and quiet but he seemed alright.”

Daryl hums in reply.

“Okay, now I really can’t wait. I might piss on you if you don’t get up.”

Daryl rolls his eyes but gets up. As soon as he does, Rick races down the hall. The hunter rotates his shoulders in a failed attempt to stop his aching muscles. After, he slowly walks over to the tap and nurses a glass of water. His dehydration is making his head pound.

He looks out the kitchen window at the back yard. There is a grey-brown mixed bunny hopping around eating clovers. He smiles softly and finishes off the rest of his water. Rick comes up behind Daryl with his hand cradling the man’s lower back. He looks out the window and says,

“When I was younger, Jeff and I found a bunch of baby bunnies in our yard. Their Momma had abandoned them so our parents let us nurture them.”

“What did you name them?”

“Fluffy, Snow Ball, Buttercup, and Earl,” he says embarrassed.

Daryl chuckles, “The first few are completely normal, but Earl? Who’s idea was that?”

“Don’t make fun of me! I was six and loved Earl Grey tea,” he says defensively. Daryl smiles and pats Rick’s stomach.

“I left my art supplies out there,” Daryl notes.

“I’ll go get it in a few. Are you feeling better?”

“Mh, everything feels heavy. I think I just need a bath and some more sleep.”

“I can run you a bath and make breakfast. Then I’ll let you go back to sleep, okay?”

“I’m not a child. I don’t need you to coddle me,” Daryl says sharply.

“I am well aware but I still want to,” Rick says in a calm gentle tone. He tips his head down a bit to look Daryl in the eyes and he brushes his thumb up and down the small of Daryl’s back. “You’re sick Daryl. This is what you do when someone you love is ill. Did your mom ever do this for you?”

Daryl’s heart flutters when he hears Rick say “love”. He doesn’t know if he should point up the slip of tongue or not.

“Nah, my Momma was sick too. Aaron told me that depression and anxiety can be genetic so I guess I’m just an unlucky son-of-a-bitch.”

“Well, then I better make the best damn breakfast to make up for all the times you missed out.”

“Fine,” Daryl huffs. He sits on the counter watching the birds fly around outside while Rick lets the water fill up in the tub. Daryl doesn’t know what to make of it all. He ain’t ever had anyone one care for him like this. He decides that it's best to just let Rick take control and guide him like he begged last night. It is strange. Last night feels like it was days ago. Time tends to get lost when he has his episodes. He sighs, grabbing a pen and sticky note. He writes down what he can remember about the strange wolf from yesterday before he can forget.

“It’s ready,” Rick says, walking out from the bathroom.

Daryl nods and motions to the piece of paper, “Here’s the description of our visitor.”

“I’ll call around later. Just holler if ya need anything.”

As Daryl walks in the room, he mumbles under his breath, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

The bathroom is littered with various sized candles. On top of the sink and on the stool that sits in between the toilet and tub both have three larger candles. He didn’t even realize he owned so many.

“Is it too much?” Rick asks, coming behind Daryl to hold him against his chest. Daryl’s heart flutters at the feeling of Rick’s warmth.

“You’re ridiculous.”

Rick chuckles, “Why do you have so many anyway? Did I just discover your secret?”

“My secret?”

“Yeah, that you actually hunt so you can use the animal fat to make your lavender candles.”

Daryl snorts, “Absolutely not. Before this house was Jesse’s it was owned by my Grandmother. She would make homemade candles to sell at church and stuff. I guess when she kicked the bucket she hadn’t sold her newer batches yet.”

“Well, she makes a mean cinnamon spice. I’ve got one going in the kitchen.”

Daryl hums in response, “Now get, I’ve got relaxing to do.”

“Aw, you mean I can’t join you?” Rick teases.

Daryl’s voice gets caught in his throat, “I mean-”

“Breath Darlin’ I was only joking. I’m gotta go and get your painting.”

“Yeah, okay,” he replies, his face still in flames. He closes the door a little too quickly making the hinges squeak. He cringes at the noise. Damn it, he hopes Rick didn’t hear that. He walks over to the water and puts his hand in it then flicks the excess off.

He strips off his night clothes and turns to the sink. The steam from the bath has made the mirror foggy, leaving him staring at a distorted image of himself. He supposes it’s a good metaphor for how he sees himself normally. He’s been lost in the fog of his mind for so long that he's forgotten who he is or what he looks like. Or maybe he never really knew in the first place. With a deep breath, he wipes his hand across the damp smooth surface. The reveal is rather anticlimactic. He looks tired and scruffy like a kitten from the street.

He can’t seem to look away from the blue eyes that stare back at him. He searches them like he’ll get an answer to a question he doesn’t know he has. It’s strange, waking up every day not recognizing the man in the mirror. He doesn’t know when it started but he knows it was a long time ago. Before Merle got locked up, before his Paw took his last sip of poison, before his Momma lit her last cigarette.

‘What does Rick see in me?’ he wonders as he steps into the tub. He sinks down to where the water meets his shoulders. He cups some of the water in his hands and scrubs his face with it. Then he leans back against the tub. It's been a while since he last relaxed like this. It seems like it was only yesterday when he got the job at Dale’s, but at the same time, it's like he worked there from the time he could hold a wrench. It boggles him how short life really is even though the days seem long.

Only a two or three months ago he met Rick because of his Uncle’s death. If Jesse hadn’t given him his land then he would have never met Rick or, it pains him to even think about it, if Shane hadn’t bit Rick. It's hard for Daryl to imagine his life without the man. What would he be doing now if the officer hadn’t shown up at his door? Probably drinking away his sorrows like everyone else in his family because Aaron and Eric would be too busy taking care of their daughter than to babysit him.

Daryl takes in a sharp breath as he realizes that Rick could still be taken from him. The battle with Shane could be at any moment and who knows what the stalker wants. It's like his glass bubble broke and the shards got caught on his heart. He doesn’t have time to waste. Life is unpredictable and merciless. Fuck fear! He is a Dixon boy and Dixon boys fear no God. Dixon boys grab life by the balls and hold on for the ride. He has to do the same with Rick, wait no- that sounds weird. He snorts and rubs his eyes. He really does need a nap. A knock at the door breaks the silence.

“Daryl? Can I come in?”

His epiphany from before echos in his head. He swallows his insecurity and pulls his knees to his chin and answers, “Yea.”

Rick smiles brightly as he opens the door. He carries in a cooking sheet with Daryl’s painting and a bowl.

“Hey! I made some oatmeal with cinnamon and strawberries. I hope it's enough. I can’t cook for shit so,” he chuckles nervously then continues, “Oh, and I grabbed your painting.”
He sets the sheet down and picks up the canvas in admiration.

“Its beautiful, Dar. It looks so real!”

“Thanks,” Daryl replies awkwardly, “but what’s with the cooking sheet?”

“Oh, ha, you don’t have one of those fancy trays so I improvised,” he says, scratching the back of his head. Daryl grunts and grabs the bowl, taking a large bite. “Be careful, it might still be hot!”

The spoon scolds his poor tongue but he pays it no mind. “It's fine. Thanks for, uh, all of this,” he says, motioning to the room with his spoon.

Rick smiles. “Of course! Well, I guess I’ll leave ya alone,” he says as he heads towards the door.

“No!” Daryl shouts. He doesn’t ever want to be alone again. “I mean, you can, uh, join me if ya want.”

Rick raises a brow at that but the corners of his lips turn upward and his eyes gaze shyly at the ground, “Well when ya put it that way how could I resist? I’m gonna get my oatmeal. I’ll be back in a moment.”

In the five seconds it takes Rick to grab his stuff, Daryl’s mind starts raising. What is he doing?! What if Rick thinks he is ugly and decides that he doesn’t want to date Daryl anymore? What if he had actually been reading the situation wrong this whole time and Rick just thinks of him as a brother?

All his thoughts stop dead in their tracks when Rick walks back in and pulls his shirt over his head. Oh. OH. He’s gonna see Rick naked. He really didn’t think this through. The more layers Rick loses the more anxious Daryl gets. Right before Rick pulls off his briefs, Daryl forces his eyes to stare at the water ripples.

“You gonna make room?” Rick asks nervously. Daryl looks up in horror as he realizes that the only way two people can sit in the tub is if Rick sits in between his legs with his back against Daryl’s chest.

“Uh-,” he stutters as he makes room. In his mind, he is punching himself in the face for his stupidity. Rick slowly gets in. Daryl doesn’t know where to put his hands so he puts them on the edge. He wants to cover himself but he knows he can’t. He’s never felt this vulnerable before. As Rick’s back connects with Daryl’s chest, he asks anxiously,

“Am I squishing you?”

“Nope,” Daryl’s body is extremely tense. He doesn’t dare breathe.

“You can put your arms around me,” Rick says, “if you want I mean.”

Daryl awkwardly maneuvered his arms to lay under Rick’s arms on the soft of his belly. Rick then relaxed and put his arms on top of Daryl’s. He moves his head to lay on Daryl’s shoulder. Daryl was sure the man could feel how fast his heart was pounding.

“Take a deep breath Darlin’ and enjoy the hot water while it lasts.”

‘While it lasts,’ he repeats in his head. Nothing lasts forever. One day this, whatever this is that he has with Rick, will end too. He prays for that day to be far away.

“Rick?”

“Mh?” he responds with his eyes closed.

“I-” he wants to tell Rick how much he loves him but he can’t. He doesn’t know how to start. So instead he settles for, “I wanna try.”

“Try what Darlin’?” he asks, still not looking at Daryl.

“Try this. Try to be- something more.”

Rick immediately opens his eyes and turns to look at Daryl.

“You mean courting?”

“Yea, but who the hell still calls it courting?” Daryl asks, blushing.

“Shut up! I’m old.”

“You’re not that old!” Daryl says, flicking a bit of water onto Rick’s face.

“Hey,” Rick says as he flinches away. He turns his torso towards Daryl and splashes the hunter back. Daryl cups his hands and pours the liquid over Rick’s head with a shit eating grin.

“Oh, Darlin’ you’re gonna pay for that…” Rick goes to push Daryl under the water but Daryl locks his fingers with Rick’s. As their muscles tense and bulge, water spills from the tub all over the floor. Daryl can’t help but laugh at their antics.

“This is stupid.”

“Are you surrendering?” Rick asks, one side of his mouth showing teeth as he smiles.

“Hell no!”

“This is your last chance!”

“I can take anything you got, Pretty Boy.” Daryl’s eyes shine with confidence but they quickly turn to confusion as Rick’s smile grows. Before Daryl can say anything, their lips connect and the world fades away. There is nothing but skin on skin and rippling of water around them. It's the best damn high he’s ever had. He feels addicted to the taste of Rick’s lips. The subtle hint of strawberry lingers, Daryl begs for more as he runs his tongue along Rick’s bottom lip. Rick stifles a moan as Daryl’s tongue slides across his and the hunter laces his fingers through the officer's hair. Rick’s left hand gently cups Daryl's hip and the other lightly scrapes Daryl's lower ribs. The feeling is electrifying. Every small touch Rick gives him feels amplified. His heart feels like it could burst from the sensitivity.

“Daryl,” Rick whispers as he pulls away, his eyes still closed, “please tell me this is real.”

Daryl smiles in admiration and kisses Rick again. Though this time it's one single passionate kiss.

“Does it feel real?”

“God, yes, but its- its-,” he struggles to find the words.

“Feels different from all the others. A more intense hunger than ever before.” Daryl answers as he cups Rick's jaw.

“When did you become all poetic?”

Daryl laughs breathily and Rick finally opens his eyes. They are the same bright blue as when he is in wolf form. It takes his breath away. He doesn't think he will ever get used to seeing them.

“Your eyes…”

“You bring the wolf in me out. He begs to be near you at all times. When I catch a whiff of your scent, he wants to howl at the moon. When we kiss, he wants to claim you as mine for all to see.”

The thought sends shivers down Daryl's spine.

“So why don't you?”

He can see Rick gulp and internally fighting his urge.

“You don't know what you’re asking. I can't do this to you, it would be wrong.”

“I want you and all the shit that comes with you.”

“And you can have me, but not like that,” Rick says sadly, “trust me Darlin’ you don't want this.”

Daryl stays silent for a moment to gather his thoughts,

“I'm not asking to be- transformed or whatever, I'm asking for you. I’m asking for you to guide me and to trust me to be your partner, your-”

“My mate,” Rick finishes. He looks at Daryl with so much love that Daryl feels it in his core. This look he knows is for him in his entirety. No matter his past Rick loves him in his presence and will love him in his future. “God, Daryl what did I do to deserve you?” he asks, his voice cracking a bit.

Daryl rubs his thumb slowly across Rick’s cheekbone then down to his lips. Rick’s gaze shifts down to the hunter’s mouth once more and closes the gap between them.
---

“Every time I come here, I am blown away by the view,” Rick says. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath humming happily, “it's so peaceful.”

Daryl glances up at Rick. The officer is sitting on the ground with one leg stretched out and the other bent at the knee to rest his arm. His hair flows slightly as a morning breeze passes. The sight makes Daryl’s heart swell. He quickly looks back down at the canvas in his lap.

After their bath, Rick told Daryl that, if he felt up for it, they should go back out to the creek so Daryl can finish his painting. It’s been hard for him to concentrate on his art when the prettiest sight he’s ever seen is lounging right next to him. He smiles suddenly as an idea pops into his head. He squeezes out a bit more red, and blue and a lot more yellow then mixes it with white to make a more realistic skin tone. He starts with Rick’s face. His closed eyes, then his nose, his mouth, his ear, and now his hair. Daryl has never concentrated more on a painting.

He finishes the highlights of the hair and glances back up at Rick so he can start on his torso, but he finds Rick looking at him with a goofy smile on his face. Daryl starts to feel self-conscious.

“What? Did I get paint on my face or som’n?”

Rick chuckles, “No, it’s just… when you concentrate your eyes get all squinty and tongue pokes out the side of your mouth. It’s cute.”

Daryl curses himself for the coloring in his cheeks. Instead of replying, he stares down at his art and bites the end of his paintbrush. He feels his hair being gently tucked behind his ear and out of his face. No longer shielding him from his embarrassment.

“You don’t need to do that around me you know,” Rick whispers.

“Do what?”

“Hide yourself. Believe it or not, I like you for you. Whoever hurt you before isn’t here now. I am and I don’t want you to pretend to be okay or to try to conceal your feelings. All of this,” he says, motioning between them, “is natural and healthy. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I know,” Daryl replies, “doesn’t mean I’m used to it. Ya gotta be patient with me.”

“Of course. I’m not asking you to go with me to pride and wear rainbow capes with our shirts off. I’m just asking you to try. I understand that this is new to you, it's new to be too.”

Daryl looks up at him in confusion.

“I ain’t ever been with a man before. My only real relationship was with Lori and well, we all know how that turned out,” he says melancholy.

“How did you know you were bi then?”

Rick shifts uncomfortably and seems to contemplate answering. Daryl stays quiet waiting for Rick to gather his thoughts.

“I, um, I was in love with Shane.”

Daryl’s mouth parts slightly in shock.

“Wow, I’ve never said that out loud.” Rick looks somewhat relieved but still guarded, “Please don’t make fun of me.”

“I ain’t. Just shocked that all.”

“Yeah, well, you spend almost every day with someone for most your life you start to realize things about yourself.”

“When did you notice?”

“Middle school, I think. He had a crush on a girl named Veronica and I was so jealous. At first, I thought it was because I wanted her but then I realized I didn’t give a shit about her breast or her preppy personality like Shane. It was him who I wanted to hold hands with and fall asleep next to.”

Daryl nods, “When did you stop loving him?”

“Around the time I really got to know Lori. At first, it was a battle between them in my heart but in the end, she won. I knew there was no future for me and Shane, at least not romantically. And Lori was so kind and laughed at my dumb dad jokes. She was perfect,” he said as he picked at the grass beside him.

“I’m sorry but you have terrible taste,” Daryl jokes.

Rick snorts in surprise, “Oh really?”

“Oh yeah! First, you fall for a crazy wolfman, then you fall for a cheating cheerleader, and now you’re with a depressed Dixon. I don’t think you could pick anyone worse.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Darlin’. You are much more than your family name.” Rick says as he takes Daryl’s hand in his. Daryl shyly glances down at Rick’s lips. Rick’s eyes notice and he subconsciously runs his tongue over his lips. Daryl leans in closer and Rick meets him the rest of the way. The kiss is long and passionate. It conveys every inch of Rick’s love for him. It leaves him longing for more.

Rick puts his hand to Daryl’s chest and delicately pushes him back to lay on the ground. Daryl’s chest pounds with excitement and giddiness. Everything he’s wished for is a reality. His mind isn’t constantly filled with what ifs or with “if only” anymore. He has the man of his dreams in front of him. Offering Daryl his hand to take him off to Neverland. Where he never has to be alone in fighting the pirates that sail the sea of his mind. He’s a lost boy that’s not so lost.

Rick cradles his hip and cheek as he makes Daryl see stars. He understands now why Eric and Aaron love to sneak a kiss when they think he’s not looking. He can’t wait to see their reaction. He’s sure Eric will make them have a double date dinner or something ridiculous to celebrate. Hopefully, Aaron will just give him a pat on the back and not encourage his husband.

Without warning, Rick is thrown off of him. Daryl has no time to think as he watches the scene in front of him in horror. Rick’s shirt is torn and falling off his body. His eyes are wide with fright as he stares down the large dark brown wolf with glowing red eyes. Stuck in between the wolf’s teeth are the remains of Rick’s shirt.

“Shane, brother, you need to calm down,” Rick says in a panicked tone.

“You’re a threat to the pack Rick! I can’t have either of you endangering our way of life.” chills run down Daryl’s spine as he watches the color drain from Rick’s face.

“Daryl ain’t a threat to us. He understands, alright? There is no need for us to be fighting.”

“Oh, don’t kid yourself, Rick. You knew this was gonna happen. If you had just been a good little beta like the rest of um’ none of this would have happened!”

“What? You mean you wouldn’t have fucked my wife?” Rick yells back. Daryl can see that he’s trying to remain calm but his eyes are shining that gorgeous blue.

“It’s the full moon, Rick. I ain’t waiting any longer. I got a pack to look after.”

“I ain’t gonna let you hurt Daryl. This is between us, not him.”

“You’re right. This was between us and then you had to go and get a fuckin’ human stuck in the mix,” he spits, “Whatever happens to him is on your head, not mine.”

“So you’re fine with murdering an innocent man?”

“I killed Otus for less.”

Rick pales, “You said he disappeared…”

Daryl remembers Otus. He was a farm hand for Hershel. Daryl never talked to him but the man would always wave anytime Daryl drove by. He mysteriously disappeared a few months ago. Everyone assumed that he must have got sick of his wife and ran off as Shane said.

“Holy shit,” Daryl mumbles.

“Why?”

“He almost shot Carl when we were out hunting. Luckily, I was able to use my speed to pull him out of the way before he was hit.”

“You took my son hunting without telling me?!”

“He’s not just your kid anymore, brother,” he said, mocking Rick.

“Daryl… run!” Rick screams at the top of his lungs before he runs towards Shane, shifting from man to wolf within seconds of flying through the air. It's unlike anything he has ever seen.

Chapter Text

“Daryl… run!” Rick screams at the top of his lungs before he runs towards Shane, shifting from man to wolf within seconds of flying through the air. It's unlike anything Daryl has ever seen. He's frozen as he watches Rick tackle Shane.

Rick tries to latch his teeth into Shane's neck but Shane keeps his front paws steady on Rick's chest. Daryl can see small trails of blood where Shane's claws are digging into Rick's skin as he fights back. Shane’s back foot lands a few deep lacerations on Rick’s left hind leg making Rick lose his balance. In his moment of weakness, Shane manages to propel Rick off of him. He hears the breaking of bone as Rick’s thrown against a tree. He sees Rick struggle to get back up. His hind leg is covered in blood and his shoulder is slumped unnaturally.

Shane rolls over onto his feet and shakes off the dirt that is caught in his fur. His gaze follows the path leading to Daryl. His scarlet eyes pierce the hunter’s soul. Shane growls making the hair on Daryl’s arms stand in surrender. Shane slowly stalks towards him. His voice is caught in his throat as he scrambles backward. ‘My bow! If Rick can hold Shane off long enough then I might be able to grab it,’ he thinks.

“Rick!” he screams as he starts running towards the cabin with Shane on his tail. The sound of heavy steps crunching the twigs and leaves behind him is so loud that Daryl can hardly think. ‘Just get to the cabin,’ he repeats to himself as if it will save him from being torn apart by his boyfriend’s brother. He can feel Shane’s hot breath on his neck. He feels like a kid again running as fast as he could to get away from his father.

With all the adrenaline pumping through his system mixing with his terror, his eyes start to water making his vision blurry. ‘No, no, no, God please, not today,’ he prays. His life was just starting to be worth living. He doesn’t want to leave it behind now. He blinks through his tears as he can finally see the cabin. ‘Just a little further, come on Dixon!’ Each time his feet connect with the grass getting him a few feet closer to safety feels like a miracle. His lungs burn like a bitch and his legs are screaming at him to slow down but he can’t.

Only five yards left. Daryl’s mind feels dizzy like he’s been spinning in circles for too long. Before he realizes what is happening, he is tackled to the ground face first. A searing pain shoots up his nose. Daryl’s been in enough bar fights to know that it's broken. He tries to stand but a paw on his shoulder forces him back on to his belly. What little breath Daryl has is strangled out of him by the weight of Shane on top of him. He feels sharp claws tearing open his back. It hurts a hell of a lot more than his father’s belt that’s for fuckin’ sure. He screams out in agony. He’s forced to look at the grass in front of him turn from a luscious green into crimson red. The pain is so intense that he can’t feel his toes.

He hears a growl different from the one before. It's deeper, more gritty, angrier. ‘Rick,’ he realizes. He feels Shane’s weight be ripped off of him. He sucks in a harsh breath. The pain that burst through his chest makes him think he might have a broken rib or two.

“Fuck,” he hisses, rolling over onto his side. Rick is standing between Daryl and Shane trying to shield Daryl with his body. The two wolves make nips at each other, barely getting any hits until Rick bites just above Shane’s hip. He cries out in pain. He then bites off part of Rick’s ear in an attempt to get him to let go. Rick whimpers and backs off.

Daryl knows he has to get up. He is no use to Rick like this. If anything he is a distraction. He needs Rick to concentrate on killing Shane, not worrying about the hunter’s well being. He grunts as he uses the last of his energy to get to the porch.

Once he’s shut and locked the door, his legs finally give out and he slumps to the ground. Black spots dance around his vision. His whole body is shaking uncontrollably from the rush of adrenaline. He hardly even feels pain anymore. His eyes are like sandbags. He just wants to curl up next to Rick and sleep until the weekend is over. Dred courses through his veins as he thinks about Rick still being out there.

“God, please, if you’re real, if you have any ounce of pity for a broken sinner like me, please don’t take him. He’s all I have,” he asks as he chokes back tears. He’s never been religious but his Momma and Granny died believing in something and he’ll do whatever he can to protect Rick. “Please,” he begs, “he has a son named Carl and another on the way. Don’t let him be taken from them. He’s a good man who deserves better.”

He waits a moment like he’ll start seeing angels open the sky to rush to their aid but nothing happens. He bangs his head against the door and looks to the side. Hope ignites in him like a fire. His bow is just sitting against the wall waiting for him.

“Thank you,” he whispers as he grabs it. He unlocks the door but doesn’t open it quite yet. He takes a ragged breath to try to calm himself down. He needs to quit shaking or else he won’t be able to shoot straight.

“Okay,” he says under his breath. When he opens the door, he surveys the scene before him. Rick and Shane are in the middle of the yard circling each other. Rick looks like an absolute mess. He’s missing patches of fur and he is limping badly. His breath is uneven like his lungs will collapse at any moment.

Shane doesn’t seem to be much better. His left eye is almost completely missing and his nose is bleeding profusely. His jaw is popped out of socket making him look like something Daryl would see in a nightmare. His hip has a chunk of it gone from Rick biting him. It's the most gruesome sight Daryl’s ever seen. He can feel vomit in his throat but he suppresses it. This might be the only clear shot he has. He can’t waste it.

He brings his bow up to eye level even though his shoulders wail in protest. He grits his jaw at the pain. ‘Focus,’ he scolds himself. He and Rick make eye contact. Rick gives him a small nod and starts saying something to Shane. Daryl’s too far away to make out what’s being said. He zeros in on Shane then aims for his side, right about where his lungs should be. The arrow cuts through the air in the blink of an eye. Shane stumbles to the ground.

“Karma’s a bitch,” he mumbles, the corners of his mouth twitching upward. Rick springs into action. He sinks his teeth into the flesh of Shane’s jugular and yanks his head back as hard as he can. Blood and tufts of fur fly through the air painting everything in sight. Rick and Shane start to shift back into human form. Shane lays on the ground staring up at Rick in confusion as he chokes on his own blood. He puts his hand on Rick’s forearm. The gurgling sound of Shane trying to speak will forever haunt him. Shane takes his last breath before he fully shifts back, leaving him in a part wolf state.

Rick sits on his knees over Shane with a distant look. The blood of his brother dripping from his mouth. He sways slightly, blinking in rapid succession like he’s in a daze then falls to the ground beside Shane. Daryl runs towards them as fast as his tired legs will let him.

“Baby, I need you to look at me. Can you do that for me?”

Rick is unresponsive. His eyes flutter shut.

“No, no, no,” Daryl puts his ear to Rick’s chest. His breath is as weak as Daryl feels. “Come on, Rick, flash me those baby blues.”

Nothing. Daryl doesn’t know what to do. He feels like he’s alone in a dark pit with unknown creatures circling around him. His palms are sweating and his fingers start to go numb. His heart feels like it will beat outside of his chest. The world around him seems to be spinning too fast for him to focus on anything. He recognizes his symptoms as a panic attack. He used to have them regularly as a child and Merle would try to help him through it but most the time he struggled alone. Over time he learned coping strategies.

By shutting his eyes he is hoping to block out the images in front of him. He tries to focus on his breathing. He takes a deep breath in for four seconds, holds it for two, and then blows out of his mouth for four counts. He grabs his jeans and rubs his fingers along the seam. The texture is rough and worn. As the air fills and empties his lungs, he slowly stops shaking and grounds himself back in reality.

‘Alright,’ he thinks, ‘I don’t have any time to waste. Should I bring him to the hospital or could that cause him trouble?’ He grabs Rick’s bloodied body and slings him over his shoulder fireman style. He knows that if he doesn’t get Rick help soon then he might die. The thought makes him want to break down again but he pushes through. He assumes that Hershel would be his best bet.

The whole way Daryl's body wants to shut down. He's not sure how he hasn't passed out from pain and blood loss. Maybe it's his stubborn Dixon heart that won't let him fail, not when he's so close. The sun is starting to set and the cool night air is creeping up on them. He stumbles up the driveway.

“Maggie!” he yells as loud as his burning lungs will allow, “Hershel!” The dryness of his throat makes him cough. The harsh movement causes his broken rib to explode with more pain. He stumbles to the ground. The creaking of the front door sounds like an angel's choir.

“Oh my- Daddy! Get the first aid kit!” He hears Maggie call as she runs to them.

“Beth, get out here! Can you walk?” she asks him with a hand on his shoulder. He nods.

“Take Rick,” he says as he struggles to breathe. He hears Beth gasp and rushes down to them. The girls each sling one of Rick’s arms around themselves and, as quickly as they can, bring him inside. It takes Daryl a moment to follow them.

When he gets inside, he sees Rick laying on the kitchen table while Hershel washes his hands in the sink. Maggie scrambles to wipe the grime off of Rick’s wounds and Beth is standing off to the side in shock.

“Beth, I need you to call the others. They need to know what’s happened.” Maggie says as calmly as she can but Beth stays frozen in place staring down at the officer. “Beth!”

She startles, blinking rapidly as repeatedly opens and closes her mouth, “Oh, right.” She turns to the phone on the wall and starts dialing numbers.

“How bad of shape are you in?” Hershel asks Daryl as he tries to stop Rick from bleeding out even more.

“Not nearly as bad as him,” Daryl replies. Maggie hands him a wet rag then rushes back to help her father.

“That’s not what I asked,” Hershel responds, glancing up at Daryl.

“I got a broken nose, maybe one or two cracked ribs as well. Some bad scratches on my back.”

“Do you need immediate attention or can you wait a few more minutes?”

“I’ll be fine, just focus on Rick.”

“There’s a bag of peas you can put on your nose to help with the swelling if you wanna grab it.” He walks over to the freezer and grabs the peas as well as a can of beer from the fridge.

“I’d advise against that, Daryl,” Hershel says without looking up. Daryl grumbles under his breath but grabs water instead.

“I’m sorry that you go wrapped up in this.”

“How do you-” then everything falls into place. “You- all of you?”

“We’re less than a quarter wolf blood so don’t get too excited,” Maggie replies. She’s started stitching Rick’s ear.

“Have you called Carol yet?” Hershel asks Beth.

“Yeah, she’s on her way.”

 

“Good. When she gets here, tell her to tend to Daryl’s wounds. And make sure you get a hold of Morgan. He’s the closest in blood type to Rick.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Daryl asks. He’s too anxious to sit and do nothing.

“Just sit and rest. I don’t need you to pass out from overexerting yourself. Honestly, I’m surprised that you haven’t already.”

“I almost did but something in me came alive and I couldn’t let myself rest until I got him here in one piece.”

“I’m assuming Shane’s dead?” Daryl nods and takes a gulp of his water. “I always thought he was rather cold but that he did have the best of intentions. Well, until Rick woke up. The dominance and control Shane once has started to slip and he went,” he pauses as he tries to search for the right word.

“Went bat shit insane,” Beth finishes, her tone too innocent for the words she is saying. Hershel glares at her but agrees.

“So what happens now?” Daryl asks. Hershel is silent a moment pondering the answer.

“I guess Rick is our new alpha.”

“What will happen to Lori and Carl? Shane and Lori are mates aren’t they?”

“I don’t know. They’re human. It’s not often that one alpha mates with another one’s wife,” he rubs the sweat off his forehead with his wrist, “Rick and Lori never officially became mates because Shane claimed her before Rick became a wolf. And Carl is Rick’s kid so he will still be welcomed into the pack.”

“What about the baby?” He asks, bringing his thumb up to his mouth to chew on the skin.

“It's complicated, Daryl.”

He remembers all the times he ever asked questions about the pack and wolf-related stuff and how he was always given the same answers. “It seems like no one’s got any answers. It's always ‘I don’t know, Daryl’ or ‘It’s complicated.’ All of y’all are like chickens runnin’ ‘round with your heads chopped off.” Daryl says, his voice rising. He stands up suddenly making him see black spots for a moment then stomps off to the bathroom.

He slams the door closed and sighs. He turns on the foist and rubs water over his face, being mindful of his nose. After he’s done, he glances in the mirror and stops dead in his tracks. He looks like a completely different person than the man he saw in the mirror just hours ago. God, was it really only hours ago when he and Rick were cuddling in the bath together without any of this bullshit? It feels like a dream.

The physical pain is nothing compared to the aching in his heart for Rick. If he doesn’t pull through Daryl doesn’t know what he’d do. This thing that they have just started, how cruel would it be for it to die so soon. Daryl never thought he would fall in love, let alone be loved back. The bittersweet relationship that has bloomed between them is the only thing keeping Daryl on his feet. He stares blankly at the man in the mirror. He’s never seen himself so broken. He looks like a dead man walking. Even his eyes look hollow and soulless. The warmth they once held was torn to shreds.

Even if Rick survives he has no idea what will happen between them. Rick will probably struggle to adjust to his new life as an alpha. If you mix that in with the whole ordeal with his family Daryl doubts that Rick will have time for him. He doesn’t blame him though. He’s not worth the trouble.

He wants to cry but he has no tears left. His eyes are bloodshot and decorated with dark purple bags. He rummages through the cabinets searching for some type of pain medicine. When he finds some, he pops the recommended amount in his mouth though he wants to down the whole bottle. A knock at the door startles Daryl from his thoughts.

“Daryl?” A soft kind voice calls, “It’s Carol. I was told you might need some help.”

He rubs his eyes but opens the door. Standing in front of him is a beautiful woman. Her hair is short and choppy but her small nervous smile makes him feel warm. She really does radiate an inner strength and kindness like Rick said.

“Where are you hurt?” she asks. Her eyes shine just like his mother’s once did. The thought of his mother makes him feel uneasy. What would she think of him now?

“I, uh, got a broken nose and some fucked up ribs.”

“There isn’t much I can do for those but if you’ve got any scratches that need cleaning and stitched I promise to be gentle. I’ve been told I’ve got a steady hand.” She smiles, trying to ease the tension. Daryl nods and makes room for her in the tiny space. She sets her supplies on the sink and washes her hands.

“Take your shirt off please.” Daryl shifts uncomfortably. She notices his hesitation and asks, “Do you need some help?”

Daryl shakes his head and tries to pull off the garment but hisses in pain. He can’t move his arm higher than his shoulder.

“Sit on the edge of the tub tough guy.” His cheeks flush at the nickname but he obeys. “Bring your arms up as high as you can without hurting yourself.” She helps him get his shirt off then she sits on the toilet lid. “Where are the worst of your scratches?” Daryl clenches his jaw and turns around so his back is facing her.

“Shane got you good. Did you land any marks on him?” She asks as she starts disinfecting his wounds.

“Ow!”

“Suck it up,” she jokes. Daryl glances back at her and flips her the bird which makes her smile grow.

“I shot an arrow into his side.” Her brows rise and she nods impressed.

“Rick said your weapon of choice was a bow. I guess you really are a buff cupid.”

“Oh, fuck off.” She laughs with her belly which makes Daryl smile to himself.

“He told me you even have a vest with wings on it. You can’t tell me you aren’t trying to impersonate cupid, Daryl.”

“Rick said we’d get along. He didn’t tell me that you were a comedian.” Daryl says in a jokingly snarky tone. She hums in response.

“Only on the weekends, Pookie.” Afterward, they stay quiet and Carol focuses more on stitching Daryl’s cuts. As she finishes the last one she says,

“Alright, I’m done. Just warning you, they’re gonna scar.”

“It's fine. They’ll blend in with the others.” He says as he gets up to stretch his legs. He notices how critically Carol is eyeing him. It makes him uneasy.

“Got som’n ta say?” he says defensively.

“I don’t know how much Rick told you about my past but it wasn’t pretty.”

“He, uh, said your husband was arrested for domestic abuse.”

“Yeah,” she says, fiddling with her hands, “I need to ask you something really personal.”

“Alright, I guess.”

“Do the nightmares get better? My daughter, Sophia, will wake up at all hours of the night in a cold sweat and I don’t know how to help her. She’s hyper aware of everything. Car doors slamming, the smell of alcohol, you name it. I don’t want her to live her life in constant vigilance. I want her to be a kid like everyone else her age.”

Daryl stands awkwardly, not sure of what to say. He stares down at his boots like they are the most fascinating thing in the world. “Kinda, I mean, over time she can learn to not jump at loud noises but her brain will always be wired to analyze everyone as a possible threat. There will always be alarm bells that ring in her head when someone is quiet for too long or triggers her in some way.”

Carol picks at the dirt under her nails with a sad blank expression, obviously not happy with his answer. “Thank you for telling it to me straight. I’ve got her booked with a counselor that Michonne recommended but it doesn’t feel like enough. I know that I can’t erase the memories of what she saw or change that past but I feel useless.”

Daryl stands awkwardly not sure of what to do next. “Just make sure she knows she’s loved and has support at home. That’s all you can really do,” he says.

She smiles weakly at him, “I definitely see why Rick fell for you.”

Daryl lets his hair fall in front of his face to cover his blush. “Is it my turn for a question?” he asks seriously.

“You just asked one but sure,” she jokes.

“Am I gonna turn from these marks?” he asks nervously. He doesn’t want to turn. He has only seen a small snippet of wolf life but it doesn’t appeal to him. Maybe in the future, that opinion will change but either way, he wants the decision to be a well thought out educated one. He would want Rick to be the one to turn him and for them to make the choice together, not be forced into a life he’s not ready for by the man who tried to kill him and his love.

“No, the only way a human can turn is through the bite.”

“Thank God,” He feels like he can finally breathe again. His muscles relax and he sits back down. “Why only the bite though?”

“It's something to do with our saliva. When we bite someone, we secrete a chemical which shifts the DNA of the human turning them into one of us.”

“Were you turned or born this way?”

“Ed turned me when we found out I was pregnant. Its extremely unlikely for a human to survive giving birth to a wolf which is why relations with humans is frowned upon. I was terrified of dying so I asked him to turn me even though I didn’t want to stay with him.”

“I’m sorry for askin’.”

“It’s okay. I don’t regret my decision, I only wish I had been turned by someone I actually love and that loves me,” she says with a shrug.

“Are you able to become mates with someone else or?”

“The bond will forever be there but one can become mates with another. This usually only happens once a mate is dead.”

“So you could end up mating with a man who loves you and who you love.”

She smiles, “I guess I could. I never really put much thought into it but with Ed dead nothing is really stopping me.”

“I thought he was in prison?”

“He was murdered by another wolf in prison. Wolves are very protective of pups regardless of the pack so when the guy heard that Ed was abusive his instincts kicked in and he killed him.”

“Why didn’t anyone from your pack do anything?”

She grits her teeth and looks down ashamed, “I don’t know. Andrea tried to help once but she only made it worse.”

“So they just abandoned you and Sophia?” he asks, surprise and anger clear in his voice.

“I asked them to let me handle it and I did. Sophia and I are now safe and that’s all that matters.”

Daryl wants to argue but if Carol has made her peace with the situation then he doesn’t want to take that away from her.

“Daryl!” He hears Maggie yell. “He’s askin’ for you!”
His brows frown for a moment wondering who she is talking about but then he runs to the kitchen. Rick is there sitting at the table in a fresh pair of shorts so that he’s not nude like before. Morgan is sitting next to him unhooking both of them from the blood transfusion set. Daryl stares at Rick unable to form words. Rick has regained the color in his cheeks but he has bandages all over his head, chest, and one of his legs. He’s holding an ice pack to his temple. When he looks up and sees Daryl his face morphs from pain into gratitude and disbelief.

“Daryl…” he says under his breath. Daryl jogs over to him and falls to his knees in front of him. He wraps his arms around Rick’s middle, being careful not to apply too much pressure, and puts his face into Rick’s shoulder. He feels a hand curl around his neck and another around his back. He can’t help but silently let the last of his tears fall. The others leave the room to give them some privacy but Hershel stays close to the doorway.

After a few minutes, his knees beg him to get up. He pulls back but stays at arm’s length. Rick’s eyes are bloodshot and his lips chapped. Daryl gives him a sad smile and kisses him. He feels a tear drip down on to his hand and wipes away the stain from Rick’s cheek. He then presses his forehead to Rick’s.

“Don’t ever scare me like that again, Asshole,” Daryl whispers, his voice cracking at the end. Rick laughs breathy,

“I don’t plan to.”

“Hey, wait,” Daryl says in confusion as he looks into Rick’s eyes, “they’re still blue.”

“Yes, due to the fact that Rick was bitten by a pureblood alpha his eyes are blue unlike the rest of us,” Hershel chimes in. He flashes his eyes yellow then continues, ”Even though he is the alpha now his eyes won’t turn red.”

Daryl lefts out a half-hearted chuckle, “I kinda like them better this way.”

Rick smiles and kisses him again.

“I’ll be in the living room if either of you needs anything,” Hershel says as he limps away. Daryl gets up from the floor and takes a seat next to Rick. Their hands intertwine.

“How are you awake right now?” Daryl asks as Rick fidgets with his fingers.

“Wolves heal faster than humans naturally but with tonight being the full moon our abilities are heightened. With Morgan and Hershel’s help, my body is fixing itself quicker than normal.” Daryl nods and rubs his thumb along Rick’s.

“How are you feeling?” Rick asks.

“Like shit.”

“Ha, yeah, that was probably a dumb question,” he chuckles, “So you don’t need a hospital right?”

“Nah, just gotta let my body heal naturally. Ain’t much they can do for me except put me in debt.”

“I’m sorry that I gotcha’ you into this mess, Daryl,” Rick says. He avoids eye contact, instead, he looks down at their entwined fingers with his jaw clenched and his knee bouncing. Daryl puts his other hand on Rick’s knee and says,

“Hey, look at me.” Rick hesitates but glances upward. “It ain’t nobody’s fault but that prick’s.”

“I killed him,” Rick says with a haunted look, “I killed my best friend.”

“You did what you had to do.”

“No, we-we could’a figured something out. I should have-”

“Stop it! It was self-defense. If you hadn’t of killed um’ he woulda killed us both.”

“You shot him. He was too weak to fight back and, and that look in his eyes,” Rick’s hands are sweaty and shaking slightly, “He was so confused like I had betrayed him.”

Daryl doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know how he would react if it had been him and Aaron in this situation. He knows he would have killed Aaron but he doesn’t know if he could forgive himself. He doesn’t know why he expected Rick to feel any different.

“I’m sorry, Rick, but it had to be you.” Daryl watches helplessly as Rick closes his eyes and lets his tears fall. He leans into Daryl and rests his head on his shoulder. Daryl rubs his back and kisses the top of his head.

“I’m sorry to interrupt but Rick you’re phone has been going off for the past 10 minutes,” Beth says awkwardly. She hands him the phone and scurries out of the room. Rick wipes his eyes and unlocks his phone. He blinks a few times and his forehead creases.

“Who is it?” Daryl asks.

“It’s Sasha.” He quickly dials her back.

“Hello?” She answers.

“It’s Rick, you called?”

“Rick, oh thank God, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you and Shane but neither of you has picked up.” Rick curls in on himself at the mention of his old friend.

“He’s dead, Sasha,” he says. Daryl can hear just how broken up he is. He hears Sasha gasp,

“I’m so sorry I didn’t know. When-”

“A few hours ago,” he says cutting her off, “Why did you call?”

“There was a fire at Shane’s house. Lori and Carl were inside.”